The holiday season moves in to full force with the passing of Thanksgiving.
Our annual celebration of food and family commenced on tables with the traditional turkey in most cases. While those offerings of the bird were eaten with aplomb and vigor, there was another package of early holiday gifts many fear or downright refuse to open.
Nestled in the cavity of the bird is the lesser thought of aspects of the animal — the giblets — or as I call them, the “island of misfit organs.”
The heart and liver are obvious enough to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of basic anatomy, but what of the gizzard? What exactly is a gizzard, you ask? Simply put, it is the stomach of the bird and it is as delicious as it is puzzling.
Most people think of the stomach as the destination for food. We eat to satisfy the stomach, but it plays little part in the enjoyment of eating. That is unless we are talking about when stomach is the food, in which case it is a delectable treat to enjoy indeed.
Organs like the stomach are often kept on the periphery of cuisine, relegated to the fringes of more humble, traditional dishes or flourishes of the avant garde. While eaters think nothing of lustily devouring a ballpark hot dog or sausage, foods that are frequently encased and sometimes comprised of intestines and organs, they scoff at the mere mention of tripe or gizzard.
This can be for many reasons from fear of the unknown, to reminders that their food was once a living creature, to the different textures of offal. I say these are all reason to embrace offal.
I know this may be a hard sell in a culture that is increasingly filled with people that can’t deign to eat dark meat or — gasp — meat on a bone. But turkey breast, or any other meat, did come from a living creature and I believe it honors the animals, the farmers and fabricators of the animals to consume all parts of the beast when we eat it.
Texture is another hurdle many fear when it comes to offal. In the case of the gizzard, this is understandable but easily overcome by proper cooking and understanding of the ingredient’s makeup.
The gizzard is a muscular secondary stomach used by birds and some animals to aid in digestion. The organ has a tough exterior that is used extensively, so it is lean and very strong to help grind and break down the food before being fully digested. These qualities give the gizzard a chewy and slightly tough texture when eaten but are no reason not to try them.
The best way to prepare gizzards is to use methods that will enhance these traits. I think of cooking them as similar to other lean, tough ingredients like squid, where you either cook them quickly under high heat or for a very long time, thus tenderizing them.
In between these points is a recipe for elasticity that might be great for banded sweatpants and rubber bands, but has no place at a decent table, as George Costanza once learned.
If you do encounter gizzards on a menu, it’s likely you will find them as they are eaten in the south, breaded and deep fried, which falls under the quick cooking method. This gives them a crispy, crunchy exterior and a slightly toothsome interior. Sometimes, I just need an order of fried gizzards and livers for lunch with gravy and hot sauce at Go Chicken Go to set the day in proper order.
Holiday tables are filled with birds from turkeys to chicken and ducks, so there will no doubt be many chances to embrace all of the gifts of the bird provides. There is a whole spectrum of textures and flavors to enjoy when you cook and eat from the nose to tail.Confit Duck Gizzards and Radish Salad with Quail Egg Makes four servings
I use duck gizzards, but if you have turkey gizzards knocking around the fridge after your Thanksgiving feast, they are interchangeable. I use both methods of short and long cooking to get the gizzards just right for this salad. I confit the gizzards to start, cooking them slowly submerged in their own fat for hours, before searing the exterior for a pleasing texture. You can also just sear gizzards over aggressive heat, though they won’t be quite as tender. Plus you saved all that extra turkey fat from Thanksgiving, right? To confit, cover and simmer gizzards for a few hours in the turkey fat with a couple cloves of garlic and a sprig or two of thyme for flavor and you’ve got a deliciously tender confit gizzard, ready to use.4 cups pea tip leaves or micro greens 1 small Daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks 1 pound turkey, chicken or duck gizzards, cleaned and cooked confit or raw 4 quail eggs 1 tablespoon duck fat from confit, or extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar 4 pickled shallots, sliced thin Salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
Mix pea tip leaves or other micro greens with daikon radish and toss to combine. In a pan over medium heat, sear gizzards until browned, 1-2 minutes, set aside. Fry quail eggs in remaining fat, set aside. When ready to plate, toss greens and radish with duck fat or olive oil and splash of sherry vinegar, erring on the dry side. Mound salad on plate, with gizzards around it and garnishing with pickled shallots and a grind or two of black pepper. Finish by laying fried quail egg on top.
Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.