In France, the end of the year celebrations rhyme with tradition. For the Christmas meal for example, the turkey or the stuffed capon is the star of our table. They are eaten with smoked salmon, foie gras or scallops. But where does this affection of the French for poultry at Christmas come from? How did it become a tradition?
The arrival of the turkey in Europe
Did you know that before the 16th century, Europeans didn’t even know turkey existed? Before then, aristocratic families ate the goose at Christmas. The latter represented the solar bird. Its eating was associated with the protection of this star.
It was not until the discovery of America that the turkey arrived on the continent. When Christopher Columbus, followed by the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the turkey began to attract public interest.
According to legend, the first turkey eaten in France was at the wedding feast of Charles IX.
When did turkey become the star of the Christmas meal?
Its association with Christmas dates back to the 18th century, to the court of Charles VII, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. It gradually took its place during the holidays at the expense of the goose. For reason, poultry was rarer and conferred a certain prestige to the table. Then, it was considered exotic.
It was popularized among the popular class thanks to the English writer Charles Dickens. The author, famous for his works about Christmas, mentioned the turkey in one of his books.
What about its name? The term “turkey” comes from the fact that the colonists thought they had landed in India. So when they brought the animal back to Europe, they simply called it the “Indian hen.
What about the Christmas capon?
Capons rival turkeys in popularity at Christmas. The history of the capon goes back to ancient times. In fact, during the Roman Republic, a law was passed regarding the consumption of poultry. In order to control the production of grain, which was reserved for the plebs, households were only allowed to eat one rooster at the table.
Faced with this restriction, breeders discovered a way to make the rooster bigger. This consisted in castrating it. This practice made it possible to bypass the legislative constraints.
Chapon means in Latin “castrated rooster” or “fattened”. However, castration is an art. Indeed, the incision of the genitals required great precision.
How to cook capon?
In France, households appreciate this poultry because of its melting and fine flesh. The cooking is generally done in the oven at a gentle temperature. This method helps to keep the meat from drying out.
Stuffing is the best way to tenderize the meat and to flavour it. You can accompany your dish with foie gras, apples, porcini mushrooms, truffles, etc. Although its meat is tastier than turkey, it does not appreciate the addition of strong sauces.
What about cooking turkey?
For moist, delicious meat, you’ll need to cook it longer. Take your turkey out of the refrigerator at least an hour before it goes into the oven. The heat shock makes it dryer.
Also, don’t forget to season with parsley and crumbled bread, for example. It is also possible to add vegetables such as carrots and leeks. The cooking time depends on the size of the turkey. For a 3 kilo bird, you will need 3 hours.