Alberto Il Magnifico was a capon, raised with loving care and surrounded by our growing appetites.
In case you are wondering, a capon is a castrated rooster. According to Wiki, the Romans ‘invented‘ capons as a way to get around grain rationing for chickens. Those crafty Romans would snip the little testicles off their roosters, feed them grain and they would grow to be twice the size of a chicken. And here is your word for the day: caponization. Yup, that means snipping off of the balls. Now, use it in a sentence and report back.
Our friend Paddy struck a deal with me one extremely hot evening in July: he would raise the capons, and I would cook them. Seeing as how I was getting the far better part of this deal, we shook hands and Paddy raised Alberto from scruffy chick to Il Magnifco status.
Last week, the phone call came: it was time for Alberto to serve a higher purpose.
Put sentimentality aside for the moment. It costs money and time to raise birds; it’s been raised to be eaten, and there comes a time when the investment must pay off. If you are of the sentimental type, don’t name the animal. We cried for weeks when it was time for Cream Puff the bull to be made into short ribs.
Alberto was dispatched quickly with one shot, so there was no fear, anxiety or adrenaline rushing through his body. Paddy’s beautiful wife Tita did the plucking, and I must say, she is a master plucker. Not a stray pin feather to be found. (Jay..are you paying attention?)
Alberto was handed off to us in a plastic bag in a parking lot. What an ignoble setting for such a magnificent bird; he should have come to us on a silver platter surrounded by cooing doves who spoke of him in soft tones. Actually the plastic bag worked just fine because we’d never be able to fit a covy of doves into the trunk of my little roadster. In fact, poor Alberto had to ride home wedged in the front seat between my legs because he couldn’t fit in the trunk.
Paddy and I had gone back and forth on how to roast him, and we finally settled on a Renaissance-inspired glaze of honey and spices with a shot of whiskey.
Alberto was given a soothing brine bath for about two hours to let the salt do its magic and seal in the juices. I stuffed the cavity with a small, sweet orange and bunches of thyme, rosemary and sage from our garden. The skin was generously salted and Alberto was ready for roasting.
In the meantime I roasted some potatoes, made a fennel gratin, a large green salad and heaps of artichokes, so that Alberto would have plenty of company on the dinner table.
About half an hour before Alberto was done, I began painting him in 10 minute intervals with the glaze until his skin turned a dark, crackling mahogany color.
There were many glasses of wine drunk in his honor and we still sing his praises.
His bones were turned into broth, the left over scraps of meat were fed to our appreciative feline friends Niccolino and Raffaello.
Since then we’ve had capon broth risotto, and a most outstanding tortellini in capon broth, the spices from the glaze still wafting through the soup in a tantalizing way.
Spiced Honey Glaze
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon strong cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon all spice
a few scrapes of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger or a few slices of fresh ginger
4-5 juniper berries
1 chili pepper
1 shot whiskey
Over low heat, melt the honey and add the spices and chili pepper, let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the whiskey and let simmer for another few minutes until the glaze is dark and thick.
Let the bird roast until nearly done and then pull it from the oven and paint the glaze over the entire bird. Repeat two or three times until you have a dark crust on the bird.
Alberto, you were and always will be Il Magnifico!