Reading Time: 9 minutes
From beak to claw — recipes that use all parts of the chicken, from skin to fat to liver to gizzards.
Photos & Story By Janice Cole, Minnesota “Waste not want not” is the new mantra for today’s trend-setters. Food waste is a hot topic and progressive chefs are leading the public in practicing responsible cooking. From utilizing entire vegetables starting with leafy green tops to peelings, all the way down to the tip of the roots, veggie pulp from juicing, along with lesser-used and unmentionable animal parts, chefs such as New York’s Dan Barber of Blue Hill and Blue Hill Farm are even staging pop-up restaurants featuring what was once tossed into the trash can.
It all started with nose-to-tail cooking, popularized by London chef Fergus Henderson and his restaurant St. John. Steeped in rural tradition, Henderson gained a worldwide following by utilizing everything from hog cheeks to trotters. These chefs are not inventing something new, though; they are simply rediscovering an ancient way of cooking and eating. Our ancestors and grandparents practiced responsible eating on a daily basis because meat was scarce, and vegetables and fruits took considerable effort to grow. You learn to utilize every little bit when that’s all you have.
What’s good for the pig is good for the goose or gander, or chicken for that matter, and beak-to-tail or beak-to-claw cooking is coming into its own. According to Alix O’Neill in the June 16, 2016 issue of the Evening Standard, “Beak to claw is the phrase currently rocking London’s gastronomic scene… London’s hottest chefs are turning their attention to whole birds — offal, claws, carcass and all.” Dishes such as deboned, crispy puffed chicken feet, spicy chicken necks and marinated deep-fried chicken carcasses (off of which diners pick the meat) are being served around town. According to the chefs, these unusual dishes work well as appetizers and small plates — diners are able to taste something they might not consider and share it with a friend without ordering an entire main course of say, chicken hearts.
Use of the whole bird has been practiced for ages around the world. Poultry feet and heads provide collagen for rich soups and stocks in all cuisines. The Japanese perfected the grilling of gizzards, hearts, liver, necks and wings with skewers called “yakitori,” while the French turned poultry liver into a gastronomic art form of smooth rich pâté. And chicken fat, or schmaltz, is as important in Jewish cuisine as olive oil is to Italian cuisine. What today’s chefs have added to the conversation is bringing the odd bits or the throwaway parts to the front and center of the table. No longer limited to stocks and soups, the spotlight is shining on chicken skin, liver, gizzards and more.
Using Poultry Skin
Are you the type of person who snitches a bit of browned crispy skin as the bird emerges from your oven? And no matter how much you know you should be eating boneless skinless chicken breasts you still insist on cooking the chicken skin-on for better flavor?
Then Crispy Chicken Cracklings are for you. I was introduced to this method years ago while assisting a class with Chef Jacques Pepin where he threw in this little tip for using leftover chicken skin. In the hands of this talented French chef, lowly chicken skin was stretched tight onto a baking sheet and roasted until crisp and delicate like shards of opaque glass. Served as cracklings for a crisp topping on salad they are also perfect sprinkled over roasted vegetables, on top of tomato bruschetta or in place of bacon on your burger or BLT. Better yet, follow the lead of today’s chefs and serve them in a bowl by themselves as an appetizer with drinks.
Feel free to vary the flavor by sprinkling with fresh herbs and a few chiles if you desire.
French Country Salad with Cracklings
This hearty salad features mixed greens, topped with fried potatoes and thin slivers of garlic-fried liver and gizzards, and tossed with a sherry vinaigrette and crispy chicken cracklings.
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cups mixed salad greens
- 1 tablespoon chicken fat
- 2 cooked new potatoes, thinly sliced or cut into wedges
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 4 chicken livers, connective tissue removed, thinly sliced
- 4 chicken gizzards, cleaned and silver skin removed, thinly sliced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Chicken cracklings, broken into crouton-sized pieces
- Whisk the dressing together in a small bowl.
- Toss greens with enough dressing to lightly coat; place on serving platter.
- Heat the chicken fat in a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat.
- Sauté the potatoes until lightly browned. Remove from pan.
- Add the garlic to pan and sauté 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Add the livers and gizzards; cook 3 minutes or until browned but lightly pink on the inside.
- Spoon potatoes and liver and gizzard mixture over salad; sprinkle with salt and pepper and cracklings.
Janice Cole 2016
Crispy Chicken Cracklings
- Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Arrange chicken skin on parchment paper, pressing it out as flat as possible with your fingertips.
- Refrigerate, uncovered, 1 hour or until lightly dry.
- Sprinkle with sea salt, black pepper and Aleppo pepper, if desired.
- Bake at 400°F, 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels.
Rendered Chicken Fat (Schmaltz)
- 1 1/2 cups chicken skin and fat, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup water
- Combine the skin, fat, and water in a medium nonstick skillet.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer for 90 minutes or until fat is golden and the skin is golden brown, stirring occasionally.
- After about 1 hour, begin watching carefully. When all of the water has evaporated, it’s important the mixture doesn’t get too brown or stick to the bottom. Begin stirring more frequently and lowering the heat if necessary.
- The fat should be golden brown but not dark brown and there should be no burnt pieces. Strain the fat and store covered in the refrigerator for 1 week or freeze for up to 6 months. Refrigerate the cracklings for up to 1 week. The cracklings can be used on toast or sprinkled as garnishes.
Note: A traditional addition is to add a chopped onion after about 1 hour when the cracklings have started to brown, stirring the cracklings and onion together until the fat is ready. This adds flavor to the chicken fat and yields very flavorful cracklings, or griebens as they are known.
Makes about 6 tablespoons.
Using Schmaltz (Chicken Fat)
Schmaltz is the Yiddish word for “rendered poultry fat,” and while goose, duck and chicken fat are used in many European cuisines, the word is most commonly associated with chicken fat and Jewish cooking. Chicken fat doesn’t have the same cache as bacon fat, goose fat or the ultimate: duck fat, but its delicate poultry flavor and higher smoke point make it a useful occasional addition to your cooking oil repertoire.
To make schmaltz, remove enough skin and fat from chicken pieces to make 1 1/2 cups or put your trimmings into a bag in the freezer until you accumulate a large amount. It’s actually easier to chop the skin and meat when it’s partially frozen so accumulating amounts over time is a great way to start.
Use schmaltz for sautéing, frying or as a flavoring agent as you would any cooking oil. Its delicate poultry flavor is perfect for savory foods. It’s flavor really comes through when sautéing toast slices or croutons.
Balsamic Chicken Liver Pâté
This velvety, mild pâté is accented with the sweet tang of balsamic vinegar. It’s a hit at parties, even with those who think they don’t like chicken livers. The secret to its creamy and mellow taste is in soaking the chicken livers in milk before cooking. For those who prefer a bolder, more pronounced flavor, feel free to shorten or eliminate this step.
- 8 oz. chicken livers, rinsed and drained, fat and connective tissue removed
- 1/2 cup milk or as needed
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup minced shallots
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Sliced baguette, apples or crackers for serving
- Place the livers in a small bowl and pour in enough milk to cover.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.
- Drain and discard the milk.
- Rinse and pat dry.
- Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.
- Cook the shallots and garlic for 1 minute or until slightly soft.
- Add the chicken livers and cook over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until almost cooked through but still slightly pink in the center, stirring and turning frequently.
- Remove the chicken livers to a plate and cool to room temperature.
- Add the balsamic vinegar to the skillet and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 10 to 20 seconds, stirring and scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from the heat and cool until warm, rather than hot.
- Pour into the bowl of a food processor.
- Add the chicken livers and pulse until finely chopped.
- Add the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter and the salt and pepper and pulse until combined. Process until the mixture is light and smooth.
- Place in a serving dish and refrigerate 3 hours or until set.
Serve with baguette, apples or crackers.
Makes 1 cup
Copyright Janice Cole; Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading; Chronicle Books 2011.
Using Poultry Liver
Poultry liver has long been prized as one of the more delicately flavored offal. It’s creamy texture and mild flavor makes it perfect for star treatment or as a supporting agent in pâtés, sausages and more. While goose and duck livers are more highly sought after and expensive, chicken livers are easily obtained from either your own birds or the supermarket.
To prepare poultry liver, remove any fat and connective tissue. For a mild flavor, soak the liver in enough milk to cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Drain, rinse and pat dry before using. Liver is high in protein, iron and vitamin A.
Grilled East Asian Kebabs
- 1 pound chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 pound chicken liver and gizzards, well trimmed
- 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut cream or Coconut milk
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 tablespoons tandoori seasoning*
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- Add chicken thighs, liver, and gizzards to large resealable plastic bag.
- Add all the remaining ingredients, except cilantro; seal bag and squish ingredients together to blend.
- Refrigerate 3 to 12 hours to marinate.
- Thread chicken thighs, liver and gizzards alternately onto four (12- to 14-inch) metal skewers; discard excess marinade.
- Heat grill. Generously grease grill grates.
- Grill kebabs over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until browned.
- Turn and grill 3 minutes or until just tender and cooked through, but not overcooked.
Serve sprinkled with cilantro, chutney, and pita bread, if desired.
*If tandoori seasoning is unavailable, substitute 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon coriander, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon oregano.
Janice Cole 2016
Gizzards are part of the digestive tract in poultry where all the grinding of food is done. If you’ve shied away from eating gizzards before, it’s helpful to know that the gizzard is simply a muscle, similar to the thigh or other muscles in the bird. Gizzards come cleaned in the market except for the silver skin, a thin tough membrane that covers certain cuts of meat (such as the tenderloin) and should be removed because it’s tough.
If you process your own birds, you’ll know that the gizzard has to be cleaned before use. The gizzard is filled with grit and small particles of stone. The grinding area is in the center and needs to be cut out and rinsed before use. A sharp knife will help in cutting the grinding mechanism out, but if you’ve never done this process before, watching a video online can be very helpful for step-by-step instructions.
The gizzard is a solid piece of protein that’s high in iron and zinc. However, like the liver, it’s high in cholesterol.
Try adding the occasional gizzard and liver to your chicken kebabs for a riff on the Japanese yakitori. The quick cooking is perfect for these cuts and the kebab marinade adds tenderizing flavor.
Originally published in the October/November 2016 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine.