We’ve made a festive bird roast by accident. Almost a full-scale Thanksgiving dinner. How is it possible to accidentally cook a feast? Well, it all starts with me finding a very special bird perfect for roasting. Then I watch an episode of Jamie Oliver’s Christmas feasts, get inspired, improvise a little and boom, here we are. Even though there are many components, everything is child’s play to prepare. And the result is worth the effort ten times. Give it a try!
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a capon at my local supermarket. Before I met Chantal and visited her for Christmas in Milan, I didn’t know what a capon even is. Most of you probably won’t either and probably won’t have access to it, but it can easily substituted with a very large chicken, a duck or maybe even a small turkey. The method doesn’t change, just the cooking times have to be adjusted for weight. If you are unsure how to do this, consult Jamie’s roasting guide.
Capon is a castrated rooster, resulting in a much larger bird and tender, juicy, tastier meat. While the normal chicken you can buy in the supermarket is barely six weeks old, capons have to be cared for, and especially fed for a much longer period, making them a special treat. This method isn’t anything new, there are traces leading back to ancient China, Greece and the Roman empire. Nowadays capon is barely known but still can be found in France, northern Italy and northern Spain, especially during the winter festive season.
I know, the ingredients list already looks daring, but I promise, everything is really easy to prepare. Roasting a bird is trivial, especially if it is covered in butter, as we do here, and has plenty of time to rest. We use this time, about an hour, to comfortably prepare the sides. The gravy is a simple byproduct of roasting the bird and some veggies. The berry sauce is similar to a compote and similarly easy. And everybody has time to defrost some peas and give them a little love.
for the bird:
- a capon or very large chicken (2,5kg)
- 1kg of mixed root vegetables
- 2 onions
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 organic orange
- 4-5 rosemary twigs
- butter (100g is probably enough)
- salt, pepper, a good poultry spice blend (or simply more rosemary)
for the gravy:
- a very generous glug of marsala, port wine, sherry, mirin or the like
- soy sauce
- 500ml of stock or bone broth (water is fine if nothing is available)
for the berry sauce:
- 1 quince or two apples (about 500g)
- some butter (1-2 tsp)
- 250g frozen mixed berries
- 1 organic orange
- a little good quality vinegar (red wine vinegar works a treat)
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- a glug of calvados
- 1 tsp starch (if necessary)
- a pinch of salt, some cinnamon, a bay leaf
- 500g frozen green peas
- salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, a tiny swig of vinegar
- About two hours before you want to start roasting the bird take it out of the fridge and remove it from it’s packaging so it has time to take room temperature. While you are at it, also take the butter out of the fridge so you have an easier time later.
- Set oven to 180°C. Peel the onions, cut all the veggies into big chunks and place into a roasting tray that fits the bird well. Break up the head of garlic (no peeling needed) and distribute over the veggies.
- Place the bird on top of the veggies and fill with the rosemary and the quartered orange. Cover the bird in butter (especially the “exposed” parts of it). Season very, very generously with salt, pepper and the spice blend.
- Roast for 2-2,5 hours until the juicey run clear. Remove from the oven, covery in tin foil and let rest for a good hour. Meanwhile proceed with the sides.
- Remove the roasted veggies from the roasting tray and set aside for later. If there is a lot of fat left in the tray and you want to skim some of it away, this is the time for it (wasn’t necessary for me). Deglaze the tray with the marsala.
- Put about a quarter to a third of the roasted veggies in a pot, together with the roasting juices from the tray. Add stock or water and purée using an immersion blender (can also be done in a food processor/blender).
- Season with soy sauce, adjust consistency with more stock or by blending more veggies into it. Let bubble away on very low heat while you prepare the other sides.
the berry sauce:
- If your quince is of a hard skinned or “hairy” variety, peel it. Carefully cut it into quarters (they are quite hard, so use a good knife and watch your fingers) and remove the core.
- Half each quarter, cut into fine slices. Warm the butter in a pan, add the bay leaf and quince and fry until the quince starts to take some colour.
- Add a pinch of salt, some cinnamon, the sugar, let it melt and caramelise and then add the calvados (be generous). Reduce until all the alcohol is gone. Add a tiny splash of vinegar and a little water if necessary.
- Add the frozen berries and let cook until everything is tender and almost falling apart. If needed, stir in one teaspoon of starch to thinken everything.
- Remove from the heat. Can be served hot or cold.
- Put the frozen peas in a small pot or casserole over medium heat. Season with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and a tiny swig of vinegar. Put the lid on, stir occasionally and warm until done (about 7 minutes).
- This is the perfect time to preheat the dishes. Prepare the dinner table. Get the special drinks out (I love a really strong craft beer). Ladle the berry sauce in a nice bowl. Pour the gravy in a sauciere or tall mug. Set a dish aside for the bones.
- Reheat the roasted veggies and carve the bird. Distribute on the preheated plates and dig in.
This is the perfect Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Eve dinner. On none of these occasions you should be counting calories, but enjoy the company and being grateful for what you have. There is plenty of protein, veggies, some fruit and little added fats, so there is no reason to freak out, all is well.
Changing it up
As already mentioned in the introduction, you can use every bird for this recipe. Change the berry sauce for the more traditional cranberry sauce if you like. You don’t have to add quinces or apples to your sauce, but I think it gives a nice texture. I love green peas with this roast, they are somehow “light” and refreshing, contrasting the roasted root veggies, but feel free to sub them with pretty much anything or to cut them out completely. All the “booze” can be changed up or subbed with apple or orange juice if you are cooking for kids. Spices are always a suggestion, feel free to mix them up.
I’ve ended up with quite a lot of leftovers. The meat is perfectly tender and juicy even after reheating and can be kept for a good 4-5 days in the fridge. There was also plenty of gravy and I probably won’t finish all of it, not even with the leftover capon. Don’t throw it away, freeze is and use as a base for a stew!
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