The birds have been harvested, you’ve composted the feathers, washed up, not eaten chicken for a few nights then, slowly, in creeps the desire to try one. I mentioned in the last post that my birds had gone strait from slaughter into the freezer, potentially interrupting the rigor mortis process, but having roasted and barbecued a few now, I don’t find the meat at all tough and in fact, it is profoundly delicious.
Also in the last post, I promised you some recipes. I’m going to make an assumption that you’ve got ideas for how to cook the recognizable parts of the chicken. Roasted whole maybe, deep fried, barbecued, all these treatments are well documented in the tomes of amateur and professional recipe writers alike, and so instead, I’m going to use my word count introducing you to the lesser loved but no less delicious parts of the bird: liver, heart and gizzards, collectively call the offal (pronounced OWE-full).
When you’ve raised an animal to slaughter weight, you see and invest in every part of that thing. Unable to raise a flock of thighs or breasts, we can’t select out the “usable” parts as preferable and dispose of the rest, not in good conscience anyway. By using everything the animal has to offer in terms of protein, you honor the sacrifice of time and life you both have made.
Through this process, my husband and I have gained new clarity on the processed food industry. What a revelation supermarkets, canned and frozen vegetables, pre-killed and butchered meat must have been, like landing on the moon or the self-driving car! Even with the associated long-term consequences of a highly processed diet, I get why people moved away from farming, given the florescent-lit option. Having opted back in myself, I’ve got a bucket of offal on my hands.
Meanwhile, while I write this, flock number 2 of baby chicks is brooding in the coop, they arrived yesterday. Slaughter date will be in November, just in time to fill the fridge for the winter, if all goes as planned.
When my son was an infant he had a standard blood test to check his iron levels. Because iron doesn’t pass through breastmilk, lo and behold, his iron levels were low. And while this was concerning to my pediatrician who reached for the prescription pad, I asked if I could have 30 days to adjust his diet to see if that had any impact. He’d started eating purées that I was making and so I reasoned that if I could sell him on iron-rich foods like egg yolks and liver, his iron levels would recover. And I was right on both counts. After my thirty day trial his iron tested normal and I got another lifelong lover of paté in the house.
Chicken Liver Pate
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
- 10-12 chicken livers
- 6 oz unoaked white wine
- 4 oz chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 anchovy fillet
- 2 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- salt & pepper
- Italian bread, thinly sliced and toasted for serving
- In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat until just transparent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken livers and sear until lightly browned. Try to keep the livers in a single layer on the bottom of the pan.
- Add the wine and cook until it reduces to being almost dry in the pan.
- Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, anchovy, capers and thyme. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon to move the chicken livers into the bowl of your food processor. Add a few tablespoons of the liquid from the pan and pulse until smooth, adding in small increments as necessary to get to the desired consistency…like peanut butter. (You will have extra liquid. It freezes beautifully. I add mine to tomato sauce or use as a liquid to braise a roast or chunks of beef.)
- Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.
- Refrigerate until cold. Serve with Italian bread toast.
One of the the best things I have ever eaten were grilled chicken hearts made by my friend Chef Shanna Pacifico. The key is a very hot charcoal fire and a close eye. Many thanks to Shanna for sharing her technique.
Grilled Chicken Hearts
- a bunch of chicken hearts, a dozen or more as they are quite small
- a few ‘glugs’ of pure olive oil (not extra virgin which has a very low smoke point and should only be used raw)
- some grated garlic
- a hearty shake of pimenton (a smoked Spanish-style paprika that comes in sweet or hot, either works)
- sea salt & pepper
- chopped parsley
- grilled garlic bread
- In a bowl or a zip top bag, put the hearts, olive oil, garlic and pimentón. Marinate for a while, 30 minutes to several hours.
- Build a hot hardwood charcoal fire. Mound all the coals up on one side of the grill so you have a screaming hot side and a slightly less hot side.
- Skewer the hearts onto metal skewers and grill over the middle of the grill, being careful not to torch them. You want a nice char but not incinerated. Move them away from the super hot side if necessary. Cook until medium well – they’ll start to sweat clear juices.
- Serve sprinkled with parsley and a slice of grilled garlicky bread.
This is the part of the bird where “chewing” of its food happens, as they have no teeth. In life, birds fill their gizzard with small bits of grit and stones and the powerful muscles of the organ grind that together with whatever seeds, plants and bugs the birds have pecked up. As a result, the gizzard is very strong which translates to being very tough. Tough muscles are best treated with long, low and slow cooking times, giving the connective tissue and protein time to relax and soften. This two-step cooking process results in the ultimate meat-as-garnish topping for a salad.
To clean the gizzard, split them open and rinse out any grit, grass or other matter that you find in there. Then with a hard grasp, pull the yellow, wrinkled inner lining away from the muscle. Discard that bit as it will never become tender. The remaining muscle is what you want.
Crispy Confit Chicken Gizzard
- Several chicken gizzards (like the hearts, best done with a bunch as they are fairly small)
- A few cups of olive oil or melted duck fat, plus a few tablespoons for frying
- Sea Salt
- A salad of your choosing, perhaps a mix of bib lettuce and frisée, tossed with a bright vinaigrette, maybe topped with a poached or soft boiled egg
- Heat oven to 200ºF. Put the gizzards into an oven-safe vessel with a tight fitting lid. Add enough fat to cover. Put on the lid, put the vessel in the oven and braise until tender, about 2 hours, longer is better. The slow cooker is an option as well, 8-10 hours on low would work well.
- Using a slotted spoon, move the gizzards to a plate lined with paper towels to drain slightly. (At this point, you can allow your braising fat to cool to room temperature and strain through a few layers of cheesecloth. Freeze it and reuse next time you want to confit something. Keeps one year in the freezer and can be reused several times for this purpose.)
- Using two forks, shred the gizzards as finely as you have patience for.
- In a sauté pan, heat enough fresh fat to coat the bottom over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shredded meat and cook without stirring until you see the edges crisp and turn brown. Resist the urge to stir. Caramelization can only happen if the proteins are left alone to do their thing. Only when you see deep, crisp bits can you stir once, then allow to crisp again.
- Remove from the heat and sprinkle with crunchy sea salt. Using tongs put a large pinch of the crisp confit on top and enjoy.