Wild Offal

This is an older post that I am recycling because it looks like more and more people are getting on board with the eat everything movement. I have many recipes on this site dealing with tongues and hearts and livers and one of my favorite parts is the gizzard. Give them a try, you might be pleasantly surprised. 
confit duck gizzard parcels

When I was about five years old I lived in a small town in Illinois, the only super market in town was a Red Owl and on occasion they would have fried chicken gizzards in the deli. My father was a big fan of fried gizzards and we would eat several pints of fried gizzards anytime we could get them. The gizzards were very chew and had an odd texture but had a wonderful flavor. That is my first memory of eating offal. During that same period of my life I also remember eating liver for the first time mom would fry it in bacon grease and I would eat it with yellow mustard. Sometime after that I realized what liver and gizzards were and I was absolutely appalled that my parents would feed that stuff to me.

kidneys with mixed green and a mustard vinagrette
For some people the biggest obstacle to get over with offal isn’t that it tastes bad, it’s that they can’t get over the fact that it is an organ. They just have this mental block that says “no, I am not supposed to eat that”. For a period of my life I was the same way but thankfully I got over that and have been enjoying offal for most of my life. Offal is all of the parts of the animal that most people would never eat but if cared for properly and prepared correctly, can be just as good as the best cuts of any animal. The most important thing to remember about offal is the freshness is everything. With cuts like the heart and tongue you can get away with freezing them for long periods of time. I have found that livers and kidneys are usually best fresh especially kidneys, the longer they sit the stronger their flavor gets and that isn’t always a good thing. Fresh livers and kidneys have a very pleasant almost sweet taste and are delicious when prepared correctly.

Grilled heart with ramp and nettle chimichuri

One of my favorite things to eat is venison heart. I know a lot of people think, heart, that’s disgusting, the way I think of it is, the heart is just muscle like all the rest of the animal it just has a more intense flavor. Heart requires a little more care than the rest of the meat. First there are the arteries, they can be very chewy and are not very nice to look at. Whenever I eat heart I like to cut it in half exposing the four chambers of the heart. I then cut away any of the valves and connective fibers that are in the heart. Once that is done you end up with a couple pieces of meat that look no different than some of the other cuts of the animal. One of my favorite things to do after I get a deer is to fry the heart and serve it with some eggs for breakfast.

Roasted Beets with dry cured grated antelope liver

Livers are probably the most versatile of the organ meats, there are endless possibilities of what to do with a liver. Fresh livers thinly sliced and sautéed in butter are a thing of beauty, but you can also grind the livers up and make pates and terrines with them. A couple of years ago I came across a recipe for Mazzafagetti which is an Italian sausage traditionally made with pigs livers. It is seasoned with garlic, orange and coriander and is a brilliant way to use livers. I few years ago I dry cured an antelope liver and it was hard and had a weird chewiness on its own but when I grated it over roasted beets is was amazing.

Duck Heart tartare

Offal doesn’t just apply to big game animals it applies to birds and small game as well. Sautéed rabbit livers and kidneys are some of the best eats around. Ducks and geese provide some very good possibilities as well. Hearts, livers and gizzards from ducks and geese can be used to make some of my favorite dishes. Duck heart tartare made with fresh duck hearts is a delicacy that most people will never have but if they did there would be a shortage of duck hearts instantly. Whenever duck hunting I save all for the hearts livers and gizzards and I have a couple of buddies who save all of them for me as well. Duck gizzards are just a very dense ball of meat but if prepared correctly can be transformed into some very tender and delicious foods. I like to confit my gizzards and then serve them with good brie cheese and a basil jelly on toast. This year I did something different with my gizzards I made a Chinese five spice confit with them and shredded the gizzards up and served them in spring rolls.

As a hunter I really enjoy being able to prepare some of the odd bits of the animals I shoot. A couple of years ago I was out in one of my favorite hunting areas and found a deer that had been shot. Whoever shot this deer just left it out in the field; they removed the backstraps which are the two big loins that run along the spine but left the rest of the animal to rot out in the field. This really upset me because I feel that as responsible hunters we need to make an effort to use as much of the animals we shoot as possible. I am not saying that everybody who shoots a deer should take the organs home and eat them but to kill an animal and only take the prime cuts and leave the rest to rot is criminal.

Chinese Five Spice Confit Duck Gizzard Parcels
One pound duck gizzards (rinsed and cleaned)
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 quart duck fat
1 large cucumber (julienned)
1 large carrot (julienned)
Rice paper wraps
½ cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
Hoisin sauce

1       Mix the five spice powder and the salt together and toss the gizzards with the mixture. Let sit overnight in the fridge.
2       Rinse the gizzards and pat dry
3       Place the gizzards in a heavy oven proof pan and cover in duck fat
          Place in the oven at 200 degrees for 4-6 hours or until the gizzards can be smashed with a fork then remove the gizzards from the fat and shred the meat
         Mix together the rice vinegar and the sugar and Soak the julienned carrots for at least 30 minutes
Follow the directions for your rice paper wraps then place a small amount of the shredded gizzards in the center with some cucumber and carrots and a small amount of hoisin sauce.