Saturday, 17 December 2011

Tandoori Capon: the Christmas post!

Growing up in England Christmas was certainly all around: the nativity plays and carol singing at school, giving and receiving Christmas cards (a test of one’s popularity in the school playground), and the inevitable Christmas movies on the box. But that is about as Christmassy as it got in our household. We only had Christmas dinner once when Amma surprised us all and decided to roast a bird especially. As usual she did it her way; a Tandoori Turkey so lip smackingly good that I remember every detail of that meal, from where I was sitting (cross-legged on the settee; this is finger food at its best) to what we watched.
 Thus, I ventured to relive the experience but without the movie this time and like Amma, I did it my way. I opted for a Tandoori Capon simply because they are popular birds at this time of the year in France.
French food traditions vary from family to family for Christmas. Many birds are popular such as Turkey, Guinea Fowl, Duck and Capon. Capon is an expensive bird due to the superior quality of the meat. So what exactly is a Capon?
A Capon or Chapon (in French) is a rooster that has been castrated.  Its meat is plump and tender with a higher fat content. I got first -hand experience of this whilst skinning the bird. Underneath the skin were clusters of fat which melted in my hand like butter. Skinning a raw whole Capon requires some amount of elbow grease and force –not for the faint-hearted. Why go to all the trouble? For a tandoori style bird the meat must be impregnated with the spices and cooked in them. So off with its’ skin!
I decided to make the tandoori spice blend myself because the shop-bought packet in my cupboard contained industrial food colouring. If that doesn’t bother you, then feel free to use a shop-bought blend (there may be more organic blends out there, visit your local Indian store or check out the supermarket shelves), a ready-made blend or paste does save time. Alternatively if you can’t get hold of a tandoori spice blend, use garam masala instead but add a tsp of paprika to get a reddish colour and a tsp of cayenne pepper for kick. I also substituted garlic with a pinch of asafetida here but you can add 3 cloves of fresh garlic (or paste) and 3cm of fresh ginger pureed with the yoghurt.
Once this is in the oven, sit back and inhale the spicy fumes warming up your home. The final result of this tandoori dish was mildly spicy and not as tart as the shop-bought tandoori pastes or blends. Joyeux Noël
Serves four
Capon weighing just under 3 kilos
1 lemon

Tandoori marinade :
6 cloves
6 peppercorns
6 green cardamoms
4 bay leaves
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 whole dried cayenne chillis
2 tsp papkrika
½ tsp nutmeg powder
Pinch of asafetida (optional)
400g natural yoghurt
1 lemon juice
½ tsp Salt (to taste)
1.   Skin the capon. Slide a paring knife under the breast and once you free some of the skin, tug it off. This is a little tricky as Capon is a fatty bird which makes this process very slippery. Use a tea-towel to steady your hands with the knife.
2.   Next lightly toast all the spices in a skillet before grinding to a fine powder in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar. Alternatively use a shop-bought tandoori blend (or garam masala).
3.   Add the spices to the yoghurt with the lemon juice and mix well.
4.   Put the capon in a roasting pan. Make 3 -4 incisions across each breast and leg then cover all the capon with the marinade.
5.   Protect with cling film and keep in the fridge overnight.
To cook the Capon:
6.   Take it out of the fridge, pre-heat the oven at 200° and let the capon come to room temperature.
7.    When ready turn the bird on to its stomach, stuff it with a lemon halved and cover the roasting pan with tin foil to keep the heat locked in whilst cooking.
8.   Roast in the oven for 2.5 -3 hours or when the juices run clear from the meat. Turn the capon over mid-way and scoop up the sauce at the bottom of the tin and baste the capon.
9.   When done, carve the capon up. Return the legs, wings and breasts to the pan without the tin foil and grill for 10 minutes.
10.  Garnish with coriander and serve as a starter with chutney or as a main with salad, rice or naan bread.


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  3. This looks beautiful x