Capon Salad

The combination of succulent poached chicken with a tangy marinade is sublime. This is a classic Renaissance dish from Mantua in the Po Valley, with the sweet and sour flavours so popular in the Quattrocento. All it needs to make a perfect summer main course are some ripe tomatoes and fresh basil, or serve in smaller quantities as a starter. Since capons are hard to come by, you can use a large free-range chicken instead.


  • 1 poached capon or large free-range chicken
  • 200g/7 oz pine nuts
  • 200ml/7 fl oz red wine vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • two 2.5cm/1 in squares of lemon zest
  • two 2.5cm/1 in squares of orange zest
  • 1 heaped tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp mignonette pepper
  • 100g/ oz raisins
  • 250ml/8 fl oz best-quality extra virgin olive oil, to dress
  • 8 plum tomatoes, sliced, or Home-dried Tomatoes to serve
  • handful of basil leaves, tom, to serve


  • roasting tray
  • small saucepan


Mise en Place

Ideally cook the chicken the day before, as described, to allow it time to cool completely.


At least 4 or 5 hours before you plan to eat, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas6. Place the pine nuts on a lightly oiled tray and toast them in the oven for a few minutes, being careful not to burn them (they are very expensive).

Put the wine vinegar in a pan and bring to a simmer. Add the bay leaves, lemon and orange zest, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes. Taste for sweetness: if too sour, add a little more sugar. Then add the raisins and toasted pine nuts and set aside.

Pull off any fat and skin from the bird and discard. Roughly shred the flesh by pulling apart with your fingers. Put it into a serving bowl and pour over the warm dressing, mixing thoroughly. Leave to marinate at room temperature for 2-3 hours, then refrigerate overnight Remove at least 1 hour before you plan to eat.


Just before bringing to the table, dress with the olive oil and serve with sliced ripe plum tomatoes or Home-dried Tomatoes and tom basil leaves.