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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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capon a castrated young domestic cock, castrated in order to become fatter and tastier for table use. Hens, too, sometimes had their ovaries removed for the same purpose. Surgical castration of cockerels for better fattening was known to the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese, and is still widely practised (even in the United States). In France, the regions most celebrated for their capons have long been Maine, Normandy, and Brittany. Caponization has been illegal in Britain since 1982, as is chemical castration—the feminization of cockerels by means of an oestrogen implant. Before it was made illegal in Britain, capons had sometimes been used as a Christmas bird instead of turkey. It is also worth noting that J. C. Loudun in his Encyclopaedia of Agriculture (1831) was already condemning the operation as ‘barbarous’. Capons for the table are more popular in France than turkeys or geese, and they are the usual Christmas fowl in N. Italy. The act of castration, of course, released testicles by the million for the ragoûts and fricassees of haute cuisine. The development of fast-fattening hybrids has reduced the need for capons.