Key Ingredient: chicken gizzards | Key Ingredient | Chicago Reader

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Key Ingredient: chicken gizzards

Sprout's Jeffrey Sills takes a read of the entrails


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The Chef: Jeffrey Sills (Sprout)
The Challenger: Blair Herridge (Browntrout)
The Ingredient: Chicken gizzards

Jeffrey Sills's reaction when he heard about his assigned ingredient, he said, was "What the hell is a gizzard?"

He'd never eaten them before and said they "kind of sounded gross." As Blair Herridge (who assigned Sills the ingredient) noted, "I think just the word 'gizzard' freaks people out a little bit."

The gizzard is a muscular second stomach that all birds have to help pulverize their food; some birds swallow small rocks to grind up harder items like seeds and nuts. Methods of preparing gizzards are as diverse as the countries in which they're traditionally eaten: fried, grilled, pickled, stewed, or barbecued; they're common in Haiti, Portugal, Hungary, Nigeria, France, and throughout southeast Asia, as well as in parts of the United States. Many local chicken shacks, including Harold's, serve fried chicken gizzards.

Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Sills asked his dad, grandfather, and a few of his cooks what they'd do with chicken gizzards, and they all said to deep-fry them. Instead, Sills decided to confit them in duck fat, a cooking technique more in line with Sprout's French style.

"The first step of cooking this is you have to rinse the hell out of them, because there's a ton of blood," Sills said. "It's a really tough piece of meat. It's really high in protein, full of blood, high in iron." Once he'd rinsed the gizzards, he trimmed off the heavy membranes surrounding them.

Traditional duck confit involves curing the meat before poaching it in fat, but Sills decided to skip this step. "It's a heavily worked muscle, like a heart. It doesn't need anything but more fat added to it," he said.

Jeffrey Sills Sprout chicken gizzards

Sills coated the gizzards in sambal (a spicy southeast Asian chile sauce) before adding celery, carrots, onions, garlic, thyme, and chervil, pouring in enough melted duck fat to cover everything, and poaching it for about five hours. He then strained the fat from the gizzards, separated them from the vegetables, and panfried them briefly over high heat to make them crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.

He served them with a poached egg, roasted Thumbelina carrots, morel mushrooms, and a carrot-mustard puree, garnishing the dish with borage leaves and flowers. "I'd say it's like a chicken thigh flavor, but the texture is completely different," Sills said. "Like chewy little chicken nuggets."

Who's Next:

Elissa Narow, pastry chef at Perennial Virant and Vie, working with huitlacoche. Also known as corn smut, it's a fungus that grows on corn and is often eaten in Mexico. "It's just this nasty-looking, mushroomish fungus," Sills said.

Chicken gizzards with poached egg

Chicken gizzards

1 lb gizzards
6 garlic cloves
12 thyme stalks
12 chervil stalks
2 stalks celery
½ onion
2 carrots
1 qt duck fat
4 T sambal

Trim all excess membrane off of the gizzards and coat liberally with the sambal. Dice the celery, carrots, and onion into large chunks and place in a metal pan along with the gizzards. Roughly chop the garlic cloves and add this to the pan. Make a bouquet out of the chervil and thyme, tying with twine, and add it as well. Melt the duck fat and pour just enough to cover the gizzards and vegetables.

Cover the container in aluminum foil and bake in a 200-degree oven for about five hours.

Carrot-mustard puree
1 lb carrots
1 qt carrot juice
½ c creme fraiche
½ c whole-grain mustard

Peel the carrots and simmer in carrot juice until tender, then puree until smooth in a high-speed blender. Add the creme fraiche and continue to puree for an additional minute. Season to taste with mustard and salt.

Roasted carrots
1 lb Thumbelina carrots
Olive oil
12 stalks thyme
1 T salt
1 T black pepper

Peel carrots and toss with olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper. On a sheet tray lined with parchment paper, roast the carrots at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until they become soft and lightly caramelized.

Poached egg
Borage leaves
Borage flowers
Morel mushrooms

Separate the chicken gizzards from the vegetables and duck fat and panfry briefly over high heat. Plate with poached egg, roasted carrots, morels, borage leaves and flowers, and a smear of carrot-mustard puree.

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