Capon à la braise with caper sauce

But you can also use chicken instead

Portrait of Henriëtte Davidis.A delicious dish from the nineteenth century that is easy to prepare. How delicious exactly, depends on the poultry (a real capon -mouthwatering but expensive-, a good poularde -very tasty as well-, or the watery pale poor industrial chicken -bleh-) and the stock you use (homemade chicken stock or a miserable liquid poured out of pots or made from cubes).

This recipe is taken from the translation in Dutch of a German cookbook, the Praktisches Kochbuch (Practical cookbook), written by Henriette Davidis (first impression 1844). The Dutch version is called Keukenboek (Kitchenbook). I have in my possession a copy of the second impression (1868) of this Dutch adaptation (For it is not an exact translation of the German original).
Henriëtte Davidis (1801-1876) was a well-known writer of cookbooks in nineteenth-century Germany. Her mother was of Dutch origin, her father was a clergyman. Some of the other cookbooks she wrote are: Puppenköchin Anna. Ein praktisches Kochbuch für kleine, liebe Mädchen (1856) (Doll-cook Anna. A practical cookbook for sweet little girls) and Die Hausfrau: Praktische Anleitung zur selbständigen und sparsamen Führer des Haushaltes (How to be an independent and economical housewife). These books were also translated in Dutch.
Her books were also important for the American cooking tradition in the Mid West, many emigrated Germans entered the new country with their own volume of the Praktisches Kochbuch. In 1897 an American edition was published, entitled Henriette Davidis Practical Cook Book (see Bibliography).
In the city of Wetter near Dortmund there is Henriette Davidis Museum.

A capon is a castrated cock. It was customary to castrate male animals to fatten them up. Animals of the female sex could be productive in other ways: reproduction, production of eggs or milk. Moreover, the meat from female animals contains a higher percentage of fat and was tastier. The males have limited use (gentlemen, don't take this personally!), apart from their procreational function they can serve either as beast of burden or supplier of second-rate meat. A castrated animal would have a higher percentage of fat, resulting in tastier meat.
Cocks were castrated ever since chickens are held as domestic animals. The capon is larger than the cock, about the size of a goose. However, capons have more meat than geese, because a goose has rather heavy bones. The taste of capon is not so spectacularly different from chicken that you have to go looking for a castrated cock, just buy a free-range poularde (a chicken that weighs 1.5 to 2 kilo [3.3 to 4.4 lbs] and is six to eight months old).

The original recipe
From the Keukenboek by Henriëtte Davidis (1868), the second edition of the Dutch translation of the Praktisches Kochbuch. To make this dish, I had to look up several recipes.

Kapoenen worden als kalkoenen behandeld: wanneer men ze à la braise gereed maakt, geeft men ze met oester-, kapper- of champignonsaus (zie de sauzen.) - p.78, chapter E: Venison and poultry, recipe nr.12.Capons are treated like turkeys: when prepared à la braise they are served with oyster, caper or mushroom sauce (see section on sauces)
Om braise te maken. Men neemt eene goed sluitende pan, belegt den bodem met schijven spek, strooit er gehakt niervet over en de volgende kruiderijen: heele peper, nagelen, een paar stukken gember, eenige heele chalotten of dikke schijven uije, dragon, eenige laurierbladen en een paar pieterseliewortels. Hierop wordt het vleesch, dat met zout ingewreven moet zijn, neergelegd, om, goed toegedekt, langzaam gaar te smoren; als het noodig is, vult men het met wat bouillon aan. Kalfsvleesch, kippen en eenden zijn aldus toebereid, bijzonder smakelijk; men dient ze met eene of andere saus, waarvoor het onderste uit de pan gebruikt kan worden. - pp.19/20, chapter A: General preparations, recipe nr.36To make 'braise'. Take a pan with a well-fitting lid, cover the bottom with slices of bacon, put some chopped suet on it, and the following spices: whole pepper, cloves, some slices of ginger, some whole shallots or thick slices of onion, estragon, some bayleafs and some roots of parsley. The meat, rubbed with salt, is placed on [this layer of onions and spices] and, with the lid tightly on the pan, slowly simmered until it is done; when neccesary you can add some broth. Veal, chickens and ducklings thus prepared are very tasty. They are served with some sauce or other, for wich the fat out of the pan can be used.
Kappersaus. Men handele volgens nr 8 [het recept voor witte ansjovissaus], maar gebruike, in plaats van ansjovis, een kopje vol kappers, met het nat waarin zij zijn ingemaakt. - p.163, chapter R: Sauces, recipe nr.10Caper-sauce. Make it the same way as described in recipe nr.8 (the recipe for white anchovy-sauce), but instead of anchovy, use a cup full of capers with their liquid
Witte ansjovissaus. Men kookt bouillon met citroenschil, grof gestooten witte peper en nagelen, benevens een paar laurierbladen. Dan fruit men chalotten en meel in boter, roert dit er door en giet alles door eene zeef. Nu brengt men de saus op nieuw aan de kook en kruidt ze met ansjovis, geprepareerd volgens A nr 15, met citroensap, 1 glas witten wijn en wat gestooten foelie. Men bindt haar eindelijk met 2 eijerdoijers en een stukje boter. - Wanneer men ongeprepareerde gehakte ansjovis gebruikt, kan men er eenige bezuinigen door de graten, die er zijn uitgenomen, in den bouillon mede te koken. - p.162, chapter R. Sauces, recipe nr.8White anchovysauce. Bring to the boil broth with lemonpeel, coarsly crushed white pepper end cloves, and some bayleafs. Then fry shallots and flour in some butter, stir in [the broth with spices] and put through a sieve. Now bring the sauce to the boil again and season with anchovy, prepared as described in A nr 15, with lemon juice, 1 glass of white wine and some crushed mace. Thicken the sauce with 2 eggyolks and a piece of butter. - When using unprepared chopped anchovy, one can economize on these by boiling the fishbones that were taken out with the broth.

Modern adaptation of the recipe Print the recipe
A large chicken: 4 to 6 persons. A real capon: 6 to 8 persons. Preparation in advance 15 minutes, preparation 90 minutes.

1 poularde, rubbed with salt
To do the braising
150 gram (1/3 pound) lard or bacon in 6 slices
some extra, thin slices bacon
100 gram (1/2 cup) chopped suet
15 black peppercorns
8 cloves
5 slices of ginger root
1 onion, sliced
some sprigs of estragon
some roots of parsley
some chicken broth (optional)
To make the sauce
40 gram (2 1/2 Tbsp.) butter or chicken-dripping
40 gram (1/3 cup) flour
1/2 litre (2 cups/1 pint) chicken broth
lemon peel, white pepper, 3 cloves, 1 bayleaf
2 finely chopped shallots
100 gram (1/2 cup) capers with the vinegar
1 decilitre (1/2 cup) white wine
pinch of ground mace
2 egg yolks
small lump of cold butter
The mixture on the bottom of the pan: lard, suet, herbs and spices
The chicken à la braise, ready for the oven

Preparation in advance
Cover the bottom of a heavy casserole with a layer of thick slices of bacon or lard. Cover this with the suet, herbs and spices. Place the chicken on top of this, and cover the bird with thin slices of bacon (optional). Close the lid, continue with the recipe or keep in the refridgerator until you are ready.
Simmer the broth for the sauce with lemon peel, pepper, cloves and bayleafs for twenty minutes. Strain the liquid.

Braise the chicken - Place the casserole on a slow fire to melt the fat, then put it in the oven (150 dgC/300 oF). Let the chicken simmer for an hour to 90 minutes, basting it now and then with the melted fat. If the contents of the casserole are too dry, add some chicken broth.
Prepare the sauce - Make a roux: melt the butter, or use three tablespoons of the dripping fat of the chicken (only when no broth was added). Sauté the shallots, add the flour in one go. Stir with a flat wooden spatula, let simmer on a very slow fire for five minutes. Keep stirring. Now add the strained broth, starting with a small amount. Keep stirring until all the liquid has been absorbed by the roux. Add the next amount of liquid when the roux starts bubbling again (keep stirring ...). When all the broth is used, add wine, mace, capers and caper liquid.
This is the sauce. Henriette Davidis made a more luxurious sauce by finishing it off with two eggyolks and some cold butter. The yolks are mixed with a little of the warm sauce. Then more sauce is added, until the yolks are warm themselves. Then you can add them to the sauce without danger of curdling. Keep the sauce from boiling, for then it will curdle after all. The cold butter stirred in gives the sauce a nice velvety shine.

On the plate the white meat of chicken, caper sauce, pommes duchesses and kaleTo serve
Remove the chicken from the casserole, remove the bacon from the bird. Have a nice serving dish ready to put the chicken on. Surround it with slices of lemon and/or lime. Show it to your guests at the dinner-table, then take it back to the kitchen to cut the chicken in portions. Arrange the chicken pieces on the serving-dish and pour some sauce over them. Use a saucier for the rest of the sauce.
In the nineteenth century the capon was cut at the table by the host. To know how to cut various kinds of roasts, fowl et cetera was part of a gentleman's education, just as tossing the salad in front of the guests belonged to the expertise of the lady of the house.

If you want to prepare a real capon, you have to double the other ingredients, and put the bird into the oven for one and a half to two and a half hours (depending on the weight of the beast). However, a quality, free range chicken will taste just as well.

All descriptions of ingredients

Capers - These are the pickled unripe flowerbuds of the Capparis spinosa L. The shrub is indigenous to the regions around the Mediterranean, and its flowerbuds were already eaten in Antiquity. They are never eaten raw.
Suet - This cooking fat is hardly ever used in Dutch cuisine. Suet is the hard fat around the kidneys and loins in beef, but there is also suet from veal and mutton or lamb. It is -at least where I live- most often sold in its raw form, you have to melt and strain it yourself. Suet melts at a higher temperature than lard. Its use is more common in the English cuisine, to make mince pies and suet puddings.

The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
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