Behold my freezer stash of chicken guts. Allow me to explain. For the last few months, whenever I have roasted a whole chicken, I have removed the giblets from the cavity of the bird and sequestered them away in a plastic baggie in the freezer. As pictured, I divided them into bags of chicken livers or hearts. (I have also set aside the necks and sometimes the wings, along with the carcass, for making stock. But that's another subject.) I started saving the innerds of the chicken in order to eat them. Here's why:
1. When I was a child, my Mom made calf's liver for dinner. Words cannot express how much I HATED the taste of that liver. Yet I also "hated" brussells sprouts and fish-- two food items I have learned to not just like, but LOVE. So why not give liver another try?
2. I feel it is important to honor and respect the chicken that has given its life to feed me and my family. It seems I ought to capitalize on that gift as much as possible, and not waste it.
3. I have learned that to educate my palate and expand my culinary knowledge, I will sometimes need to step beyond my comfort level and try new things. Many home cooks and sophisticated chefs love to prepare and eat offal. Surely I have something to learn from them.
4. I'm curious. What IS that stuff?
So I resolved to myself to stop throwing the chicken guts into the trash, and learn how to cook them.
My first difficulty was in identifying the various guts in the little packets inside the chicken cavity. The neck and heart were easy, but livers and kidneys and gizzards? Not so much. I didn't even know what a gizzard was
Luckily for me, I found this helpful photo-identification of chicken giblets article at (strangely) the Apartment Therapy webs site.
I'm pretty sure I got some kidneys mixed in with those chicken livers. But never mind.
The point is, after collecting enough for a meal, I finally stopped procrastinating and decided to cook the chicken livers (and probable kidneys). I have set aside the hearts so I can make a dish I read James Beard describe once.
I decided to try my hand at the old standby of livers with onions.
Now, this is where I was a little chicken-hearted myself, because I knew that my family was going to look askance at this meal. Even though I wanted to try eating liver, I was pretty sure they would NOT.
So in addition to preparing the chicken livers, I baked a large EMERGENCY BACK UP PIZZA in the oven so that everyone would have something to eat if they rejected the livers.
That's right. Call me Chicken Heart.
But back to the livers.
In his program on cooking chicken liver, I remembered that Alton Brown suggested that first you soak the livers in buttermilk in order to remove any "funky" flavors or potential bitterness. I read elsewhere that it also helps tenderize the meat. So I put the (defrosted) livers into a large bowl and covered them with buttermilk for an hour or so before cooking them.
While the livers were marinating in the buttermilk, I cooked five pieces of bacon in a pan. This is a common way of preparing the livers and I decided that bacon fat will go a long way toward making something potentially unpalatable, quite acceptable. I removed most of the bacon fat and bacon from the pan, then cooked one and a half onions in the bacon fat until they were lightly carmelized.
Finally it was time to cook the livers. To do so, I simply tossed them in flour seasoned with pepper (avoiding salt, which might make the livers tough, and too salty after the bacon) and sauteed them in the pan with the residual bacon fat. When they were cooked through, I added back in the bits of bacon chopped up, and the cooked onions. When they were all re-heated they were good to go.
You are going to have to trust me when I say it really DID taste better than the picture looks. The verdict from the liver virgins? Not bad! Quite tolerable, really. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but better than outright rejection. Mom liked it as much as she enjoyed calf's liver years ago.
I must admit that after the initial tastings for the men in the house, pizza was the preferred menu item. And the leftover livers did not get eaten. What did I think? I certainly did not dislike the livers, but I don't think I would seek them out to eat. I think I still need to cook them up a few more times and get past my old conditioning. I like to feel a little more enthusiastic about food I cook.
I'll get there.
Want to learn more? Here's web site dedicated to the preparation of offal: Offal Good -- which is a great place to start.
What about you, Rookie Cookery Readers? What food phobia have you tried to face? Were you successful? Tell me about it in the comments!