That bag in the bird. For many home cooks, it is the scariest, most intimidating part of roasting poultry. Noses scrunched, eyes half averted, many eaters hold their breath, get it, grab it and swiftly chuck it into the garbage without a second glance. Have to admit, the product placement - deep in the cave of the carcass - doesn't exactly sell the stuff. But that little hidden gift can take your menu to the next level.
What Are Giblets?
Giblets are the most flavorful offal of the bird, carefully removed and reserved for you to enjoy. Typically, you will find the heart, liver, neck and gizzard (part of the digestive tract) wrapped up in a small paper or plastic bag and tucked into the cavity of the bird. All are not only edible but are often considered delicacies in their own right. "Whole animal eating is not only the right thing to do, it's the delicious thing to do," says Samantha Garwin, Butcher and Chief Operating Officer at Fleishers Craft Butchery. "Offal showcases a range of flavor and textures that are uniquely complex and even decadent."
As eaters continue to embrace whole animal cookery, giblets are being valued not only for their flavor but the role they play in being a responsible meat eater. To a large extent we have become a culture that prefers to take the breast and leave the rest. Even the bones. It's an eating decision that impacts the way birds are bred and raised and has led to an industry that has developed a laser focus on producing large-breasted animals to the detriment of the animals, the farmers and workers and eaters.
But by enjoying all parts of the bird (or any animal for that matter), we expand this myopic vision of what makes good eating, the benefits of which extend to every link in the food chain. As Garwin explains, "By ensuring that nothing goes to waste, we are fulfilling our duties as conscious consumers, forging the final link in an environmentally- and socially-responsible supply chain." More meals from one bird means we reduce the amount of natural resources we use, the pressure on farmers to produce more meat faster and represents time and money savings for eaters.
It's best to source your gizzards, and all meat, from trusted sources. The best way to get the story behind your dinner is to talk to your farmer. If you are relying on labels, look for birds raised on pasture; they enjoy their natural diet and are the most flavorful. Enjoying organically raised poultry will limit your exposure to toxic inputs.
Giblets aren't hard to cook and can be used in a wide range of recipes. Here are some ideas for making them into a meal.
Heart - Chicken hearts are sold in many grocery stores, packaged and presented like any other poultry cut. They are extremely economical, often costing only pennies - nickles, max - per portion. Pop into any Brazilian Churrascaria (aka steakhouse) and you are sure to find skewers of them still sizzling from the grill. The Japanese also favor their chicken hearts grilled yakitori style and slathered with sweet/savory tare sauce. In Hungary, the hearts are cooked into a rich stew. You can try them pan fried, marinated and sautéed or turned into a rich, satisfying chili. The taste is very similar to the dark meat of the bird, albeit a bit stronger.
Liver - The liver of all animals is prized across cultures for its nutritive and restorative qualities and poultry are no exception. Perhaps one of the most common preparations of poultry offal is in traditional Jewish chopped liver spread. The fattened duck liver, foie gras, is a culinary indulgence served as whole lobes or in a patés de foie gras. Poultry livers can be cooked and served in many of the classic liver recipes eaters have come to enjoy. You can have them sautéed with onions, in mousse or pâté, or even in your smoothie! Some claim that a sautéed liver, cooked until it is deeply caramelized, is the key to the best Bolognese sauce. Like all liver, poultry liver has a slightly metallic, some would say gamey, aspect. If you're new to the taste of liver, you can soak them in milk before cooking for a milder flavor.
Gizzard - The gizzard is the "grinder" of the bird; the section of its digestive tract that contains grit or small stones used to pulverize the animal's food as part of its digestive process. Gizzards must be cleaned thoroughly before cooking. Remove the outer membrane and wash out any lingering grass or grit in the folds of the muscle. Gizzards are loved by many eaters for their depth of flavor. Those from chickens and turkeys can be tough, so are often used in long-cooking recipes, such as soups and gumbos, or are boiled to tenderize them before frying. Tender duck gizzards are often sent directly to the pan for sautéing.
Neck - The most identifiable item in the giblet bag is the neck. It may seem like just a bit of bone, but simmered until tender, there is quite a bit of meat there, at least enough to reward the cook with a snack for their effort. If you are looking to put them to use outside of your stock pot, consider stuffing them for Helzel, a traditional Jewish dish. Or dive into chicken neck tacos.
Giblets in Recipes
The giblet bag usually has only one of each type of organ. Not enough for a meal, but certainly enough to flavor the meal you already have in the works. A great gateway preparation method, for those that find the texture too much of a leap, is to cook the giblets and then slice or dice them into small pieces and incorporate them into another recipe.
Here's how to do it. Brown the cleaned gizzard, heart and neck in a little neutral-flavored oil over medium heat. When richly caramelized, cover with water and simmer until tender, at least one hour and up to two. Remove from the liquid and set aside until they are cool enough to handle. The liquid makes the best stock so don't pitch it out. Use it in soups, stews or as the base of a stellar gravy (see below). Dice the gizzard and heart and pick the meat from the neck. You can use immediately or cool and keep covered in the refrigerator for a day or so. You can add the meat to your gravy, as below, or cook it into stuffings and dressings, meatloaf and meatballs or grain dishes for depth of flavor and a protein boost.
The liver can develop an off-flavor when boiled so best to leave it out of the simmer. To prepare it to use in other recipes, it's better to roast or sauté it until it is just cooked through. You can pop it into the oven along with your bird or sauté it in butter in a medium pan. The liver is enjoyed by many simply sliced and served on toast as a little nibble for the cook or served as an hors d'hoevre before the meal. Or you can incorporate it with your diced or sliced giblets, as described above.
This is the gravy I make every Thanksgiving. It has a deep, rich, very "turkey" flavor. I start with a large batch of Brown Chicken Stock to get a head start and to ensure that we have lots of gravy - you'll be amazed at how quickly it goes. I strain out my giblets, so my gravy is silky smooth, but some eaters prefer to chop them up and stir them back into the gravy. Your call. This recipe assumes that you are roasting a turkey and calls for all the good drippings in the roasting pan. You could also use the same recipe for roast chicken with gravy, adjusting the yield to suit the size of your crowd.
Makes about 11⁄2 quarts, serving 14 to 16
Contents of the giblet bag (such as the neck, heart, gizzard), except the liver
2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as organic canola
1 quart Brown Chicken Stock
1⁄2 cup drippings from roasted turkey
1 shallot, finely minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as sage or thyme (optional)
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
Pat the giblets dry and sprinkle with salt. In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, sauté the giblets in the oil over medium heat until well browned, about 10 minutes, turning halfway through to ensure even cooking. Cover with 2 quarts of cold water and bring to a simmer.
Lower the heat and simmer gently while your turkey roasts, at least 2 hours (top up with cold water if the water level threatens to recede below the giblets). Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. You should have about 1 quart of giblet stock.
Transfer this stock back to the saucepan, add the brown chicken stock, and keep warm over low heat. When the giblets are cool enough to handle, you can mince the organs and pull the meat off the neck to add back into your finished gravy or use in another recipe.
Remove your roasting bird from the oven and set it aside to rest while you make the gravy. Pour off the drippings from the pan into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup. Give the fat a few minutes to separate out from the drippings and rise to the top. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the clear fat back into the roasting pan, reserving the remaining drippings. (If more fat rises above the drippings, spoon it off and reserve for another use.)
Set the pan over one or two burners on medium-low heat. Add the minced shallot to the pan along with the herbs, if using, and sauté until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour and whisk it into the fat and shallots in the roasting pan. It will form a paste. Add the wine and whisk with the flour paste until smooth. Pour reserved drippings back into the pan and whisk to combine. Slowly add the stock mixture, whisking all the while to ensure a smooth gravy. Simmer for 5 minutes to thicken. At this point you can strain out the shallot for a perfectly smooth gravy, add the chopped giblets and neck meat for a more rustic gravy, or leave it as is. Adjust the seasonings.
Transfer to a gravy boat or insulated carafe, and serve.
Leftover gravy keeps, cooled, covered, and refrigerated, for 3 to 5 days. Thin with water, if necessary, when reheating.
-from "Eat it Up!" by Sherri Brooks Vinton