Birds of a Feather
A recent article in the New York Times caught my eye with its color photo of a beautifully browned capon. For those readers who may not know, a capon is a gelded rooster, a castrated bird, a feathery eunuch–in Arnold-speak, a girlie man of the chicken world. All the effort that would have gone into rooster manliness goes, instead, into the building of a big, broad tender breast, naturally, without added hormones or antibiotics or whatever other things commercial chicken and turkey producers do to get extra white meat on their birds.
The NYT photo instantly transported me to a charming agritourismo in southern Italy where we once stayed with friends and where I had the pleasure of enjoying my first capon. An agriturismo, as its name implies, is an Italian B&B farmstead, where guests lodge, dine, and view a working farm in the beauty of the rural countryside. On many agriturismos, some or even most of the food served comes from the bounty of the farm. In this particular case, the farm produced a large flock of chickens, with the ladies kept for egg laying and the surplus gentlemen destined for a life of capon-hood and ultimately the table. On our tour, we wandered among the strutting capons, snapped photos of a newly born litter of piglets, hand-fed a small herd of goats, picked apples from their orchard, and watched the pressing of their olive crop into rich, green oil, which we tasted fresh from the press.
That night, when we came down to dinner, a number of plump capons were turning on the spit over the glowing coals of the ancient brick grill oven in the dining room. The chef basted them every so often with melted lard that he dribbled onto them from a conical iron ladle. With each basting, the flames would lick up and sizzle the roasting birds. Lo, these years later, the image makes my mouth water, so much so, that I decided we should forego turkey for Thanksgiving this year and have capon instead. It won’t be exactly the same as the Italian experience–we don’t have an open brick rotisserie in our kitchen or the larding ladle, for instance, but we do have an outdoor grill that will suffice. Now all we need is a capon and some good organic lard.
My search for an online capon source took a while, but I finally was able to uncover a reputable purveyor, D’Artagnan,where an 8 to 10 pound bird can be had via FedEx or UPS. Compared to turkey or regular chicken, a capon, at about $6 a pound plus shipping, is a little pricey, but for a special occasion, as far as I’m concerned, darned well worth it.