Lifestyle & opinion

Reflections on the festive bird

The first challenge was explaining it. For once, they put their phones down: castration generally grabs the attention of adolescent boys.

Roast Capon
Roast Capon

What I hadn't realised was that this can be achieved chemically, by oestrogen implants, as well as by... well, the usual method. Secondly, of course, it meant we would be eating a male, whereas most 'chicken' (like most lamb and pork) comes from birds and animals of either sex. (More serious looks from the two males.) The third surprise, for the parents this time, was how expensive our Christmas capon was (we had blithely ordered it without enquiring). A 4.225kg bird at €16.10 the kilo meant a price tag of €68.02. When I looked at our butcher's price list, though, turkey was €16.60 a kilo, wild boar €17.80, goose €19.90, and pheasant (which my Dad used to get – at the right moment, just before closing time – for 50p each from Oxford's Covered Market) a jaw-dropping €28.70 the kilo. No doubt they all lived out their short lives in the lap of luxury.

Then, of course, came the usual argument about cooking. I am a passionate adherent of 'the dismembered roast', for two reasons. First, every morsel can be cooked to golden, crisp-skinned perfection, wings to breasts, by varying roasting times and receptacles; second, you can make a most fragrant and lip-sticking stock with the raw carcass and leg trimmings. You do, however, miss the theatre of bringing a whole bird to table and carving it up as the juices dribble out and mouths water: my wife's choice. Theatre won.

We had to look lively as it cooked, since it produced almost duck-like quantities of fat. (Happily, it didn't atomise that fat all over the oven, in contrast to the goose we had chosen for Christmas 2001 – and never since.) The capon ate well, better than turkey does in the family's unanimous view, and served for three meals in total with the fat soldiering usefully on after that, offsetting the initial investment; a rice, dried fruit and nut stuffing was also judged an improvement on sausage-meat versions. The 2013 Chablis Premier Cru Côte de Lechet from La Chablesienne made a fitting white-wine partner: tender and friendly now as well as light and lively, and à point in maturity terms. Alas the Volnay 2016 from Christophe Vaudoisey, bought in the village itself when I tasted it and found it delicious a couple of years ago, failed to ignite (as so often with village reds in Burgundy – a category aged for even a short spell at one's peril).

There were red wine treats over Christmas, though – like the Cuvée Emile Peynaud 2007 from Mas de Daumas, shared by our neighbours Jana and Gaël (still young, pure, deep and elegant), and the 1999 Lynch-Bages (ripe and singing) brought round by our friend Martial the night I cooked pizza. Both of these grand bottles, as it happened, had been given to them by friends who are notaires (solicitors, more or less). This will figure to anyone who has ever bought a house in France, and looked at the notaire's bill afterwards. It makes capon look very cheap indeed.

Andrew Jefford

Guest Writer

Andrew Jefford

Andrew Jefford is an awardwinning writer and broadcaster with a regular blog and column in Decanter magazine and contributing editor for The World of Fine Wine magazine.

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