Prepared ‘à la braise’
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.
What is a capon?
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. Another recipe from this cookbook: Herb soup with potato-balls.
Modern adaptation of the recipe
Main dish for 4 to 6 persons with a large chicken, or for 6 to 8 persons with a capon; preparation in advance 15 minuten; preparation 90 minuten.
1 poularde, rubbed with salt
To do the braising
150 gr (⅓ pound) lard or bacon in 6 slices
some extra, thin slices bacon
100 gr (½ cup) chopped suet
15 black peppercorns
5 slices of ginger root
1 onion, sliced
some sprigs of estragon
some parsley roots
some chicken broth (optional)
To make the sauce
40 gr (2½ Tbsp) butter or chicken-dripping
40 gr (⅓ cup) flour
5 dl (2 cups/1 pint) chicken broth
lemon peel, white pepper, 3 cloves, 1 bayleaf
2 finely chopped shallots
100 gr (½ cup) capers with the vinegar
1 dl (½ cup) white wine
pinch of ground mace
2 egg yolks
small lump of cold butter
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 °C/300 °F). 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.
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
Dit zijn onrijpe bloemknoppen van de Capparis spinosa L., die in zuur zijn ingemaakt. De plant is inheems in de gebieden rond de Middellandse Zee, en was al in de oudheid bekend. De bloemknopen worden niet rauw gegeten.
This cooking fat is hardly ever used in Dutch cuisine. Suet is the firm fat around the kidneys and loins in beef, but there is also suet from veal and mutton or lamb. Its use is more common in the English cuisine, to make mince pies and suet puddings. See also Tallow.
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- Henriëtte Davidis, Keukenboek. 1868, 2nd edition (1st edition 1867). Adaptation of the 11th edition of the Praktisches Kochbuch (1st edition 1844). On the internet there is an edition from a German version from 1897 of this cookbook, adapted for American kitchens, and an edition of the first American edition in English, also from 1897.
Capon à la braise with caper sauce, a 19th century recipe