The EU definition is: “male fowl castrated surgically before reaching sexual maturity and slaughtered at a minimum age of 140 days; after castration the capons must be fattened for at least 77 days.”
After castration, the rooster’s comb doesn’t grow any more. The bird becomes docile and lacks the fight that roosters have. Consequently, instead of being coarse and stringy, as rooster meat would be otherwise, the meat is less muscular, and fattier. In fat, the meat is plumper, juicier, more tender, and more flavourful than even regular chicken is.
The birds are given an antibiotic first before the procedure, and not feed or watered ½ day to a day before the operation.
In the US, Capons are mostly produced in Iowa (as of 2004.) They are kept for 16 weeks until they are between 8 and 10 pounds (3 ½ to 4 ½ kilos), then sent to market. This is twice as long as chickens normally are kept. Capons are more expensive than chickens because of the cost of the procedure and the cost of the longer time to feed them, combined with the low supply and high desirability.
Capons are very popular in China, France and Italy. In France, gras-capou (fatty capon) is a specialty of the Lauragais area, and has always been considered a good bird to serve at feasts. In Italy, Capon was often served at Christmas, or was given as a present to important people such as the village priest. A Capon festival is held every December in Morozzo, Piedmont, Italy.
Capons are illegal in the UK. What are sold as Capons in the UK are actually just older, larger chickens.
Capons were mentioned by the Greek writer Aristotle, and by Roman writers such as Cicero, Columella and Varro. Columella explains the procedure in his “De Re Rustica”. The Romans considered the testicles from the castration a delicacy. They called the person who did the castrating a “deliacus gallinario”.
The Victorians loved Capons.
Sears Roebuck sold do it yourself home “Caponizing Sets” in the 1920s, complete with an instruction manual and diagrams.
Literature & Lore
“The chameleon’s dish: I eat the air, promise-crammed; you cannot feed capons so.” — William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616. Hamlet, Act II, Scene 1.)
“In relation to capons, and about this there is some doubt, the one on the table always seeming the best.” — Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste, 1825.
“The chemical capon is the newest development in the poultry industry. These are hormonized birds, synthetically caponized by the insertion of a hormone pellet under the skin of the neck, a trick that adds fat, enhances flavor, and increases tenderness. The chemical-capon development is still in its infancy but growing rapidly in response to favorable consumer reaction. In some areas these hormonized capons set the market price and are so popular that other poultry often sells at a discount. Poultrymen predict that very soon the hormonized chickens will have nation-wide distribution.” — Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. May 1950.
A bunch of Capons is called “a muse” of Capons.