A capon is a castrated rooster. Capons are considered by many people to be a boutique and old fashioned sort of food, and they tend to have more tender, flavorful flesh as well as a higher fat content. The markedly different flavor profile of a capon is distinctive to consumers once they taste it, especially when the bird has been conscientiously raised.
Since most poultry is mass produced commercially, it can be difficult to find a capon unless a consumer has access to a quality butcher or small family farm. Experimenting with these birds is considered to be well worth the effort by some.
The process of turning a rooster into a capon is known as “caponization.” The process happens between six and twenty weeks of age, depending on the producer and the chicken breed. Heritage chicken producers remove the testes of the cockerel surgically, while larger producers tend to induce caponization hormonally with the use of estrogen implants. The result in either case is a neutralization of the sex hormones which normally develop in roosters.
As a result, the bird becomes much more mellow in temperament, losing the aggression commonly associated with roosters. This makes capons easier to handle, and also changes the way in which their meat matures. Capons have more tender, fatty flesh because they are not as active as roosters are. They also tend to taste less gamy, because they do not develop sex hormones, which can impact the flavor of the flesh. In addition, their bodies undergo smaller physical changes, including the development of a smaller head, comb, and wattle.
Around the farmyard, a capon is much safer than a rooster, because the birds are not aggressive. These birds can also be kept together without the issue of potential fighting. In the kitchen, roast capon is moist, flavorful, and very tender since the flesh starts out tender and the higher fat content acts as a natural basting agent. A high quality capon has a dramatically different flavor than traditional roast chicken.
Unfortunately, the industrialization of meat production has made capons rare. Chicken breeds raised for meat are engineered to mature quickly, so that they can be sent to market in as little as five weeks. This rapid development has an impact on overall flavor and quality of the meat which most consumers are not even aware of because they have never tasted more naturally raised meat. A bird raised in industrial conditions will taste similar to conventional meat, making the process rather pointless.
To obtain a capon as well as more flavorful and sustainable meat in general, consider acquainting yourself with a boutique butcher. Boutique butchers often butcher their own animals, or purchase meat from small local farms and abbatoirs. A small farm has the facilities and the time to raise meat slowly on natural fodder, resulting in meat with a more developed and interesting flavor. These farms will also provide capons, although you should put an order in early if you need a capon for a special occasion to ensure that it arrives when you need it.