There's always someone who likes weird foods. The one who plucks the eye out of a whole roasted fish and devours it. The one who enters a fugue state while feasting on black pudding or chicken feet or tripe. Maybe that person is you.
I'm that person when it comes to chicken gizzards. I haven't said anything about it up to now because part of me was hoping to keep all the gizzards for myself. But now I'm running out of room in my freezer, so I might as well let you in on the secret.
And did I mention that they're cheap? A pound of chicken gizzards usually runs me about $1.50, sometimes less. They also happen to be an excellent source of iron.
Turkeys and ducks have gizzards, too. Turkey gizzards are every bit as delicious as chicken gizzards, only much bigger. Duck gizzards are practically a delicacy, which means you can find them, but they'll cost you. It'll be worth it, though. I'd argue that confit of duck gizzards is worth a trip to France.
What are Gizzards?
We'll confine this discussion to chicken gizzards, since they're the most widely available.
So: a gizzard is a muscle that's part of the digestive tract of a chicken. The gizzard helps it grind up its food, since it doesn't have any teeth to do that with.
If you've ever seen chickens pecking away at the ground, they are in fact swallowing tiny bits of grit and gravel, which travels through the chicken's digestive tract and eventually lodges in the gizzard, which is basically the last stop before the stomach.
Then when actual food arrives, this powerful little muscle contracts, like a tiny fist squeezing a handful of gravel. The gravel grinds up the food, the food continues on into the stomach, and everything goes its merry way.
Notice I called the gizzard a strong muscle. It is, and it does a lot of hard work, which tells you it's going to be tough — unless you cook them the right way.
What Do Gizzards Taste Like?
Since they're muscles, gizzards are meaty little morsels, with a deep, rich, dark-meat chicken flavor. And there's nothing smelly or livery about them. They're just these delightful little meat twists, and they're a prefect thing to serve at the end of a toothpick along with some sort of savory, tangy sauce.
Gizzards happen to be one of a loosely defined group of miscellaneous chicken parts known as the giblets (which also includes the neck, heart, kidneys and liver).
And most of the time, that stuff's getting thrown away anyway. Not by you, maybe. But most giblets likely never make it out of the little bag they come in. (Also, sometimes the bag gets cooked inside the bird. Which is not good, remember never to do that.)
Thus the gizzard is the underdog: ignored, unloved, forgotten. I don't know about you, but that just makes me want to root for it even more. I predict it's only a matter of time before people are lining up for gizzard tacos or wolfing down gizzard nachos at their local watering hole. Gizzards will go from being disposable to being #artisanal, #authentic and #sustainable.
All of which would be true, by the way.
Recall, too, the story of how chicken wings happened to become the quintessential bar food — not to say the "behemoth" of bar food, which isn't quite the right word for something so pointy and flappy. Nevertheless:
Wings used to be throwaway food. This was back in the 1960s, and chicken processors would basically pay you to take them off their hands.
Until a smart bar owner figured he could toss them in the deep fryer and give them away at happy hour. That started to get around, and since every bar has a deep fryer (and of course everything tastes good deep-fried), next thing you know customers started asking for them. Entire restaurant empires have since been built upon an ingredient that was once thrown in the bin.
The point is, this could happen to gizzards, too.
Which means they'll become more expensive. But it'll be worth it, because it'll mean that more people are getting to enjoy them.
Note on Cleaning Gizzards
By the way, because of the grit that resides in the gizzards, it's important for them to be cleaned before cooking.
Commercial gizzards that you buy at the supermarket (e.g. Tyson, Foster Farms, etc) will be cleaned already. They're probably right there with the other chicken, next to the hearts and livers and so on. But if you don't see them, ask, because the butcher is probably hoarding them for himself.
If you buy gizzards from a local butcher or poultry farmer (which you absolutely should, you'll get a fresher, nicer product), just make sure to ask if they've been cleaned or not. And if they haven't, your choices are:
- Ask if they'll do it. They might charge you, or they might not, and they also might say no;
- Take them home and clean them yourself, which quite frankly is a bit of a drag; or
- Call around until you find someplace where you can get them already cleaned.
How to Cook Chicken Gizzards
The best way to cook gizzards is slowly, with moist heat, at a low temperature. That's because they're if they hit high heat, like in a saute pan, the connective tissues will tighten up and squeeze the gizzards into chewy little balls of shoe leather.
Instead, the goal is to cook them slowly over low heat, so that the connective tissues relax and melt away. Your temperature target is between 180° and 205°F. The name for this type of gentle cooking is braising. Whatever you do, don't let them boil, though, or they'll be tough.
After an hour or two of gentle braising or simmering, all that connective tissue will soften and turn into gelatin and the gizzards will be nice and tender. You can either serve them, or let them cool, dry them thoroughly, then bread them (or batter them, if you prefer) and deep fry them until crisp. Then serve with a garlic aioli and swoon.
Slow cookers are great for braising gizzards. Each model is different, but you probably want to use the low setting, which is around 210°F.
It might take 8 hours for it to reach that temperature, so refer to your manual.
But the beauty of gizzards is they can go into anything: Tacos, enchiladas, bolognese sauce, lasagna, not to mention soups, chili, and fried rice, which is one of my favorite ways to use gizzards. They're also terrific served slightly warm with a plate of greens.
Finally, speaking of slicing: it's best to chill the gizzards before slicing, because they'll be firmer and you'll get a cleaner slice. And anyway, hot things are harder to slice.