Chicken, Only More So
by Jefferson Munroe
Chicken is your quiet, friendly neighbor who you’re happy to have over for dinner a few nights a week, but wouldn’t want to party with unless everyone else is out of town or has a cold. Although the meat is reliable, it’s not always a first choice because it can be overdone, or underdone in terms of preparation and taste-factor. But chickens themselves are wonderful creatures. Chickens pick your garden clean of weeds, grow at incredible speed, survive temperatures from zero to 100 degrees, and leap tall branches in a single bound. They fertilize gardens, their eggs bind pastries when baking, and there are few meals so comforting and easy as a roast chicken for dinner.
And here’s the rub–chicken can be bland. Factory-farmed chicken has become ubiquitous and flavorless. Chicken nuggets, canned chicken soup, frozen fried chicken, mechanically pressed chicken breast. Any way you slice it, today’s commercial chicken has become something of a bore.
Chicken variety meats, on the other wing, are anything but bland. They are intense. Chicken off-cuts cannot be conquered, only co-opted. Be with friends when eating chicken parts, because alone they can be a bit overwhelming.
So what happens when you cook the most intense parts of the most innocuous animal?
Think Bruce Banner angered, Logan now Wolverine, and Clark Kent turned Superman. Your mild mannered, downright boring chicken becomes a flavor fighter, but one with a conscience who shines for good. Here is your chicken offal team, equipped with recipes to harness their different superpowers:
The darkest of dark meats, chicken hearts put thighs and drumsticks to shame. Whether you decide to fry, grill, or roast your hearts, they benefit from a bit of marinating to help them relax. The Korean BBQ works well with other lean and intense meats, such as venison or wild duck. Chicken Livers Liver is the most grounding of all the meat, with plenty of iron and other minerals your body craves now and again. Oddly, the earthy, sometimes overwhelming flavor is paired with a texture that is almost spongy. Chicken livers happily find themselves with onions in a frying pan and some Worcestershire sauce, over mixed greens salads after being sautéed in butter and deglazed with vinegar, and of course in chicken liver paté, where brighter flavors are added to lessen chicken liver’s gravitas. The following mousse gives a lighter texture than most baked patés and the chocolate and pistachios help to jazz things up.
Not quite beef cheeks or pork jowls, the gizzard is a chicken’s rock tumbler. When a chicken eats, it swallows everything whole and accumulates it in a pouch known as the crop, a rest stop in the esophagus. Food then slowly migrates to the gizzard, along with any pebbles (also called grit) the chicken has picked up along the way. The grit and food are ground up in the gizzard with some stomach acids before passing to the intestines. The gizzard is the hardest-working muscle in the chicken, which has led some to disregard it because of tough, chewy experiences. The two recipes below prove that keeping the heat low and slow can turn the most difficult cut into something delicious.
Carriage is an important part of life, for people and for chickens. As such, when thinking of the whole beast one shouldn’t forget the feet of the chicken. As with hooves and trotters, chicken feet contain plenty of gelatin, and should be used liberally in stocks (4-6 feet and a chicken carcass should give you a wonderfully gelatinous stock—but beware, feet alone a stock do not make; without the chicken carcass the feet lack a depth of flavor). The following recipe comes from Trinidad and to be honest, I was a little skeptical myself, but the spicy, acidic marinade, juicy cucumbers, and salty chicken combined to create a surprisingly tasty dish.