Cock, Capon, Hen, & Chicken

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Chicken, Capons, Cocks, Roosters, and Hens, are all the same creature to the modern cook. Mature chickens will be treated as ‘boilers’ or ‘roasters’ but otherwise not all cooks will differentiate when cooking with them in a modern recipe. Not all cooks differentiate between the fowl when trying medieval recipes either. Medieval cooks did.

Capons are castrated roosters. They were served to the upper class almost exclusively.  They were desirable for their large size, fattening quickly after their ‘little cut’. They are also valued for their balanced humours, which meant that they were an excellent meat for anybody–who could afford it.

Roosters in contrast are warm and dry in the second degree. Hens and chickens are cold. Young hens were less expensive, with mature chickens, past their egg laying prime, even more affordable and were a food source common for the lower classes.

Modernly prices still seem to reflect these medieval values still. With capons, when a shopper can find them, still being expensive today.

Spinach, fennel and parsley are also suitable for all humours as well so I’ve selected two capon recipes with this in mind.

To Boil A Capon With A Syrup
This is an excerpt from The Good Housewife’s Jewell
(England, 1596) The original source can be found at MedievalCookery.com

To boil a capon with a syrup. Boyle your capon in sweet broth, and put in grosse pepper and whole mace into the capons bellie, and make your syrup with spinach, white wine, and currants, sugar, cinnamon and ginger, and sweet butter, and so let them boyle, and when your capon is ready to serve put the syrup on the capon, and boyle your spinach before you make your syrup.

Ingredients
* a whole capon (~6lbs)
* 10 peppercorns
* 1 mace flake
* 10 cups broth

Sauce
* 4 cups baby spinach, no stems, chopped fine
* 2 cup of white cooking wine
* 2 tbsp currants
* 1/2 cup raw sugar
* 1 cinnamon stick
* 2 slices of ginger
* 1/4 cup of unsalted butter

Directions
1) Pour broth into a pot large enough for the capon you’ve chosen. Insert the pepper and mace into the cavity of the capon, then submerge the capon into the broth, making sure capon is covered. Bring pot to boil and then reduce to simmer. Simmer capon for 1 hour or until it reaches 165°, and the limbs twist easily from the body.

2)  In a smaller sauce pan add the chopped spinach and 3 cups of water, bring pot to boil and then drain off water. Add wine, currants, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and butter to the hot spinach, simmer on low to medium low while capon is cooking, stirring often.

3) Removed cooked capon from broth and carve normally.

4) Remove cinnamon stick and ginger slices from spinach sauce. Pour sauce into a serving dish.

5) Serve capon slices with spinach syrup.

Capons with Herbs
From Le Viandier de Taillevent
(France, ca. 1380 – James Prescott, trans.)

 Cook them in water, pork fat, parsley, sage, hyssop, rosemary, wine, verjuice, saffron and ginger, as you wish.

Ingredients
* 1 Capon (~6lbs)
* 1/2 cup bacon fat, pork fat back, or lard
* 2 cups parsley, stems removed, chopped fine
* 1 branch sage, stem removed
* 1 branch hyssop or marjoram, stem removed
* 1 branch rosemary, stem removed
* 1 cup white cooking wine
* 1/4 cup crab apple verjuice (or cranberry wine)
* 1 pinch saffron
* 1 slice ginger, grated

Directions
In a large pot place capon and other ingredients. Add water to cover. Bring pot to boil and then reduce heat to medium-low to simmer. Simmer capon for 1 hour or until it reaches 165°, and the limbs twist easily from the body. Remove Capon from pot and carve. Serve with cooking broth if you desire.

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