Capons are castrated young roosters that are prized for their tender white meat. Larger than our usual 3 to 4 pound (chicken) roasters, capons will weigh 6 to 10 pounds, making them a good alternative to turkey for smaller households -- and smaller ovens.
Plus they are a better value than a small turkey since the ratio of meat-to-bone on an 8-pound capon is much higher than that on a 12-pound (usually the smallest available size) turkey.
Fresh capons aren't usually kept on hand by our butchers, although some will carry them during the peak holiday period. But they aren't hard to get and a call to your butcher a few days in advance should assure you get what you want. Organic and free-range capons can be expensive but not any more than what you'd pay per pound for the same quality turkey.
Cooking A Capon
Capons can be stuffed before roasting, although the same issues and concerns for stuffing any poultry remain regardless if it's a capon, turkey or chicken: First, pay attention to food safety since any stuffing in a roasting bird must reach 160° F, same as the meat itself. And second, a stuffed bird can compromise flavor. Since the bird must be cooked longer to cook its stuffing, the meat will inevitably dry out. Better to cook the stuffing separately.
Back to the capon. Roast it as you would a chicken or turkey. Season with herbs, salt and pepper, and maybe a few wedges of fresh lemon placed in the cavity. Tie the legs with butchers twine to keep them from flapping around. You can also gently lift the breast skin and place a mixture of softened butter, fresh thyme, lemon zest, and salt and pepper under the skin, rubbing any excess over the outside of the entire bird.
Some recommend starting the roasting in a hot oven (450° F) and finish it in a moderate one (350° F) but you can also get good results by roasting it entirely in a moderately hot oven. An 8-pound capon roasted at 375° F should reach an internal temperature of 165° F in about 1 1/2 hours. Baste with pan juices, chicken stock, or a combination of melted butter and white wine every 20 to 30 minutes. Be careful to not over-cook it as it will be dry. Test with an instant thermometer inserted into the thigh, avoiding making contact with any bone as this will skew your results.
Let the finished bird rest for 10 minutes before carving.