August 28, 2017
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Don’t Throw Out the Giblet Bag
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Moms and chefs alike have been cooking up kitchen snacks out of giblets for years—are they onto something?

Like many Americans who revel in eating the nasty bits, my introduction to offal came at Thanksgiving. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was the early 1990s for sure because I remember the red, white, and blue Bugle Boy polo I was wearing. I also remember the blissfully maniacal look on my mother’s face as she plucked that blood-soaked bag of lumpy, burgundy meat from the hollow center of a pale-pink turkey carcass.

As the turkey roasted away in the oven, she tore the bag open, poured the contents onto a well-worn cutting board, and began working hearts and livers and gizzards with a meat pounder till they were tender and uniformly thick. She salted them and peppered them—nothing fancy—and then added them to a hot skillet swirled with olive oil and red pepper flakes. Ten minutes later, my mother had her snack. She didn’t share, but only because no one else in our family dared eat the stuff. I was horrified, but I also remember thinking, My mom is kind of a badass.

Giblets—the gizzards, livers, hearts, and necks of fowl—still mystify people. Where do they come from, how do you eat them, and what are we supposed to do with such a small quantity of anything? Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino, whose forthcoming book, Offal Good, is a 304-page love letter to the stuff most of us view as inedible, understands this, but he also wants people to embrace the nasty bits because so many are “missing opportunities for deliciousness.”

Chris Cosentino with one of his grilled duck-heart skewers

“There’s a perception-versus-reality issue for what works versus what doesn’t with offal,” says Cosentino. “The heart, the gizzard—these are muscles. This is beautiful meat. They’re not throwaways as we think they are in the U.S…. These are ingredients that when treated correctly can be turned into something very special.”

There are, of course, some people who eat giblets at least one time a year because they know organ meat is the key to a rich, hearty Thanksgiving gravy. If you’re doing it right, you’re sautéing your giblets with mirepoix, salt and pepper, and herbs and simmering it with the drippings from the bird. Get the gizzard (which becomes tough after cooking) out of there, but chop up the heart and kidneys and neck meat, add it all back to the pan with some flour or cornstarch and maybe some cream, and pretty soon you’ve just made turkey breast that actually tastes good, thanks to the robust gravy.

It turns out my mother was in good company in her predilection for turning the odd bits into a predinner snack. Giblets, especially the gizzard, are popular snacks among restaurant chefs. While home cooks may throw out the bloodied fowl bags, chefs look at their bloodied fowl bags as though they were filled with gold coins.

“I think giblets are a chef-y thing these days because we’re all tired of eating the same stuff we serve to our patrons on a daily basis,” says Les Molnar, the executive chef at a trio of beloved Detroit establishments: Green Dot Stables, Johnny Noodle King, and the Huron Room. “Also, you rarely have more than a small amount of giblets on hand. Not enough for a dish, but for sure enough for a kitchen snack.”

When working with the innards of fowl, Molnar prefers a simple preparation.

“For the little things, my favorite is a brine of whole milk and salt and pepper. The milk adds some fat and pulls out some of that minerality that is off-putting to most. From there, either use your grill—yakitori for the grill—or your fryer—use Drakes batter mix for the fry. Cook them closer to medium, though, unless you want some truly leathery nugs.”

Kevin Moran, the executive chef at Deep Ellum and Lonestar Taco Bar in Boston, talked about a generational gap wreaked by the materialism—and the access to plentiful processed and easy foods that were a symptom of that materialism—of the Baby Boom generation. In Moran’s estimation, people stopped eating offal because having to eat offal was an indicator of low-class standing. And because the average millennial’s parents never cooked the stuff, that generation is wholly ignorant of the various merits of offal.

“And it’s not even just with offal—what happened to dark meat, what happened to chicken thighs? These are the best parts,” says Moran. “Chefs know this, because the people who never stopped being exposed to it all are the people who processed all the meat, you know?”

Like me, both Molnar and Moran were introduced to giblets by a matriarch on Thanksgiving.

“My first love of giblets, my earliest memory of them, is when my mom showed me her secret for making great Thanksgiving stuffing,” explains Molnar. “She added heart, kidney, and liver, and it gave it something more earthy. Something more—and this is my favorite word for describing food—unctuous.”

Moran described something similar: “I fell in love with it because it was always around on Thanksgiving. My grandmother would boil the hell out of that giblet bag. I used to watch her prepare it, and I didn’t have any education about how to properly prepare it as a kid…. I wouldn’t cook it the same way she did, but she at least opened me up to the idea that these organs were something you could—and should—actually eat.”

Chef Jamie Bissonnette even finds ways to bring the offal of fowl into his menus. At his Boston restaurant Coppa, he runs a special with a Bolognese using ground duck offal as its base. He fell in love with the organ meat when he was working as a young line cook.

“When I was young and wanted to be creative—line cooks aren’t really allowed to be creative—I had a chef who would give me the giblet bag from a chicken or the heart and kidneys of a rabbit and tell me to make something interesting,” recalls Bissonnette. “Now when I have a young cook, I do the same thing: ‘Here, make us a snack.’ I use it as a teaching tool.”

Giblets can be scary, especially if you’ve never cooked them—or if you never had a mother or a grandmother cook them for you. But dammit, the giblets—and especially the gizzard—should be eaten by everyone, and not just on Thanksgiving. The next time you buy a roaster from your grocer’s poultry section, think twice before discarding that giblet bag, or ask your butcher to set aside some of the odd bits for you. You just might discover your new favorite predinner snack.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound chicken gizzards, cleaned
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 4 chicken thighs, skin removed and crisped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • One good pull of peel from a lemon, plus grated lemon zest, for garnish
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 quarts Roasted Chicken Stock, hot
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for searing the livers
  • 1 medium onion, small dice
  • 2 cups Vialone Nano Fino or other risotto rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 12 confit chicken hearts
  • 12 confit chicken gizzards
  • 4 cockscombs, cleaned and cooked
  • 12 chicken livers
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • Crisp Skin, to garnish
  • Roasted Chicken Stock (makes 2 1/2 gallons)
  • 10 pounds chicken bones
  • 2 pounds chicken feet
  • ¼ pound onion, roughly cut
  • ¼ pound carrot, roughly cut
  • ¼ pound celery, roughly cut
  • 1 head garlic, split lengthwise
  • ½ pound leek, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • Handful of parsley stems
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • Confit Chicken Hearts and Gizzards
  • 1 pound chicken hearts, cleaned
  • 1 pound chicken gizzards, cleaned
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of pink curing salt (just enough to fit on just the tip of a paring knife), such as Instacure #1
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch parsley stems
  • 1 head garlic, split to expose the cloves
  • ½ gallon duck fat, or to cover
  • 2 cups ½-inch-diced stale bread
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 4 duck eggs
  • 1 pound duck liver, cleaned
  • Crisp Skin
  • Skin of 1 bird, or many
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Chris Cosentino explores underrated and underutilized off cuts in Offal Good.

This risotto is inspired by a classic Torino dish called finanziera, which translates to “the financiers.” Using all the best parts of the bird, it was made for the money guys who came to market. It’s a true testament to how many flavors and textures can come from one bird. This serves several people, but of course if you want to be like the finanziera, you can be greedy and hog it all yourself.

    Roasted Chicken Stock

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the chicken bones and feet on a sheet tray and roast until golden brown, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and place in a nonreactive pot. Roast the vegetables on the same pan as the bones; when golden, after about 15 minutes, add them to the pot. Cover with 15 quarts of water and add the aromatics. Bring to a boil, skim the scum, and simmer for 6 hours, partially covered. Add water as necessary if the level drops too low. Let cool, strain, and chill.

Confit Chicken Hearts and Gizzards

  1. In a nonreactive heatproof container, combine the hearts and gizzards and season with salt, black pepper, and the curing salt. Toss with the thyme, bay leaves, parsley stems, and garlic, and let sit, covered, in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. Remove the giblets (gizzards and hearts) from the refrigerator and let them come to room temp. Preheat the oven to 250°F. Warm the duck fat on the stove until hot but not very hot, and reserve a little for crisping croutons and sautéing livers. Pour the rest of the fat over the hearts and gizzards with all the herbs and garlic.
  3. Place the giblets and duck fat in the oven. Cook until tender, about 2 hours. When they are done, remove the giblets from the fat and keep warm.
  4. In a sauté pan over medium heat, add some of the reserved duck fat and sauté the croutons until golden brown and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt. Set aside.
  5. In a separate pot, combine the red wine, 1 cup of water, and a teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil. Crack in the duck eggs, one at a time, and turn the heat to the lowest setting, making sure to poach them soft, about 4 minutes.
  6. Pat the liver dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat, add the remaining reserved duck fat, and when the fat is very hot, sauté the liver, flipping once, until medium rare, about 3 minutes total.

Crisp Skin

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Put on a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Blanch each piece of skin for a few seconds, just enough to firm up the skin and make it somewhat translucent. Drain and pat the skin pieces very dry with paper towels. Spread the skins out nice and flat in a single layer on a Silpator parchment-lined sheet tray, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the skins with another Silpat or parchment paper, then place another sheet tray on top. Bake until crispy. Each skin crisps differently, and the ones at the edges of the pan may finish first, so watch the pan, rotate it, and expect anywhere from 5 minutes up until they’re done, sometimes as much as 50 minutes. Let them cool, break them into shards if you want, and store in an airtight container for a couple days, but they’re better the sooner you use them.

Risotto

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Pick 2 tablespoons of leaves from the thyme and reserve them for finishing the dish. Season the thighs with salt and black pepper. Place them in an ovenproof pan with the lemon peel, garlic cloves, the remaining thyme stems, and 1 bay leaf, and cover with hot chicken stock. Place in the oven until just cooked through, about 30 minutes. Let the thighs cool in the liquid, then remove them and pull the meat into bite-size pieces. (Save the liquid to braise the cockscombs.) This liquid will then be used to make the risotto.
  2. Warm the reserved chicken stock in a saucepan on the stove and keep hot. In a 12- to 14-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the rice, and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine and remaining bay leaf to the rice, and cook until nearly dry. Add a 4- to 6-ounce ladle of stock, and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed. Continue adding the stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more, until the rice is tender and creamy yet a little al dente, using about 6 cups of liquid and cooking for 15 to 20 minutes. Just before adding the last bit of stock, add the confit chicken bits, cockscombs, and pulled thigh meat.
  3. At the same time, heat a medium sauté pan until very hot, pat the chicken livers dry, and season them with salt and pepper. Film the pan with olive oil, and sear the livers until browned and medium rare, about 1½ minutes per side.
  4. Take the risotto off the heat, and stir in the egg yolks until well mixed and thickened. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Top with the reserved thyme and crispy chicken skin.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh duck hearts
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil, for the grill
  • ¼ cup hazelnut oil
  • 4 lemon wedges
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • Bamboo skewers

Chris Cosentino explores underrated and underutilized off cuts in Offal Good.

Izakaya restaurants in Japan often serve a little bowl of sesame oil with their grilled chicken hearts. You dip the warm, tender hearts into the nutty oil, then dab them into another bowl of spicy black pepper, and you keep going back for more and more. Here we use meaty duck hearts and sweet hazelnut oil as a riff. Kanpai!

  1. Soak the skewers in water so they won’t burn when you are grilling.
  2. Trim the hearts, making sure to remove any hard bits and squeezing to remove any excess clotted blood from the chambers. Preheat a grill to medium heat.
  3. Distribute the hearts evenly among the skewers, making sure there is a little space between the hearts. Season with salt, oil the grill grates, and then grill the hearts, rotating evenly so they get nice color all over. Once they are medium rare, about 4 minutes total, place the skewers on a plate with the lemon wedges. Serve with a side of hazelnut oil and salt and pepper to season as you wish.

Terrence Doyle

Terrence Doyle is a writer in Boston who obsesses over pizza. It's not a problem yet, but it's probably getting close.

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