#4 Cooking offal: Gizzards, hearts and livers

by Laura Jean King

Part four and time to get into what some people might think of as the ‘less desirable’ internal bits of the duck.

As defined in Larousse Gastronomique, offal is “The edible internal parts and some extremities of an animal… it therefore includes the head, feet, and tail, and all of the main internal organs. The offal from poultry is called giblets.” While most people in the Western world wouldn’t have any qualms about throwing duck giblets into boiling water to make a stock or gravy, many would balk at the thought of eating a heart, liver or gizzard on their own. In reality, these parts of a duck are very enjoyable to eat and have a wonderful, pronounced flavor. Think of them like meaty bacon – good as a garnish, good by themselves, and good as ingredients incorporated into recipes.

All of these organs can be cooked and eaten any way you want. I decided to confit the heart and gizzards and make a pate de foie gras out of the liver… both dishes were so incredible that I can’t wait to do it again and, furthermore, can’t wait to try new recipes with them. What surprised me when beginning my giblet journey is there’s a whole subculture of chefs out there who are absolutely crazy about eating innards! Not too long ago, I agreed with the masses that these parts of a bird had no other purpose than to flavor a stock. I have now been converted to the other side and am eager to rush out and buy a bag of duck livers and gizzards as soon as possible. The recipes I’m about to share with you are decidedly inspirational. Besides knowing how good giblets can taste, this kind of cooking is truly a new frontier in eating both for me and many others out there because not a lot of people have discovered these ingredients yet. Cooking something new and wonderful gets me excited about cooking in general. I hope these offal recipes and ideas have the same effect on you and yours!

The duck innards most commonly eaten are the gizzards, heart and liver. The heart of a duck is very tiny – so petite, in fact, that my duck heart almost got lost in the shuffle when I was cooking it with the gizzards. Oh the gizzards, the divine morsels of meat that are much larger than the heart, come in pairs, and look like red lumps. Gizzards, before they hit your kitchen, are actually a digestive pouch in ducks acting as their second stomach. One of my ducks came with two gizzards, a heart, and a liver while my other duck came with none of the above. Make sure you buy a duck that includes the innards or you will be sorely disappointed. Gizzards and hearts can be cooked with the bird, deep fried, roasted, poached, boiled, ground, grilled, sautéed… you can really treat them both like any other meat… however, I gather that slow cooking and not over cooking produces the most desirable textures overall.

Confit hearts and gizzards

The recipe I tried for my first experience eating the heart and gizzards of a duck (or of any animal, really) was Geisers de Canard Confits. Simply put, these are the gizzards marinated and then slowly cooked in duck fat. I decided to toss in the heart as well. It is said that the heart and gizzards tend to be chewy, but if you decide to poach them confit they can be as supple as any meat prepared in a confit. To start, thoroughly rinse off the meats and then the recipe prescribed marinating them for 24 hours in your favorite seasonings. I marinated mine in a little bowl with garlic powder, salt, and thyme but didn’t give it the prerequisite 24 hours. They ended up marinating only 2 or 3 hours, however it seemed sufficient. Heat your oven to 110°C (or 225°F). Before dunking them into the fat, rub away excess marinade with a paper towel and make sure they are as dry as you can get them. A dry marinade with salt added in works well for confit because the salt continues to remove moisture from the meat as it’s marinating. The point of confit is to eventually remove all moisture from the duck so it can be properly preserved and stored.

After situating your meat in the pot, fill it up with duck fat or olive oil until it just covers the top of the meat. Put it in the oven for 2-3 hours depending on how much meat you have cooking. A good way to test if the meat is cooked is to see if a knife can easily cut through it. Be careful, though! I suggest removing the gizzard or heart from the fat before poking it. I didn’t do this and hot grease spewed out everywhere on the counter and on me. Another thing to remember is if you want to cook hearts and gizzards, consider doing them in separate dishes because it won’t take the hearts nearly as long to be ready and you don’t want to overcook them. When they’re done cooking, like any confit, you can either eat them on the spot hot from the oven or go ahead and store them in air-tight containers surrounded by the fat they were cooked in. To prepare them from storage just take them out, slice them up if you want, and sauté them in a hot pan for a few moments. While I ate mine immediately on their own- and by the way they are heavenly that way- I hear they’re great sautéed and used as a topper for salads too. Jaques Pepin suggests putting sautéed duck giblets onto an escarole salad dressed with a lovely vinaigrette of shallots, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, duck fat and olive oil.

and over rice

Another recipe I found that I’m eager to try is gizzards, hearts and mushrooms sautéed over rice. Put about 120ml (or ½ cup) of olive oil in a pan and get it hot. Pick out your favorite smaller mushrooms, halve, and throw them into a skillet along with about 900 grams (2 lbs) of gizzards and hearts. Cook over high heat until the mushrooms are browned, then add a cup of your favorite wine, port or sherry and reduce to medium heat. Add some minced garlic, parsley, thyme or tarragon, and pepper and salt to taste. Continue to cook the mixture for 20-25 minutes, adding more of the wine, port or sherry as needed. If you don’t like rice, you could even put this dish over pasta too. If you like cream sauces, why not add a touch of cream towards the end? Soy sauce, lemon juice and onions would be another great combination to sauté giblets in. This way of cooking gizzards and hearts is very versatile, cost effective, and extremely easy to put together.

Sous vide

The very next recipe I’m going to make with gizzards when I can get my hands on about 10 of them is cooking them sous vide and confit at the same time! All you do is pack them in a single layer in a heavy duty freezer bag, surround them with liquid duck fat or olive oil, and after getting as much air out of the bag as possible you seal and submerge the bag into 60°C (or 135-140°F) water. If you’re having a hard time submerging the gizzards, it means you have too much air still trapped in the bag. Try sealing most of the bag and sticking a straw in a little opening in one of the corners and suck out as much air as you can… I have done this and it works! Cook the gizzards for at least 4 hours. It isn’t hard to maintain this temperature over low heat and it’s perfectly safe with the freezer bag as they are made to sustain extreme temperatures. If you feel nervous at all, put a silicon mat in the bottom of your pot so your bag isn’t directly touching it. If you are patient and have the time, leave your gizzards in for up to 8 hours to get them even softer; after you’re done, you can eat them right away or add them to another dish.

Another interesting recipe I saw for sous vide gizzards has a marinade of salt and thyme and a dressing to drizzle on them after they’re done cooking made of mushrooms sautéed in duck fat or olive oil, shallots, and garlic with some thyme and verjus.

… or super simple

If all of this sounds too adventurous to you just yet, consider pan-frying the gizzards and hearts in a little butter or fat, mincing them up, and adding them to your traditional bread-stuffing recipe. There’s no shame in easing in!

A purportedly natural cough remedy that is by some more prized than the duck breasts even, gizzards and hearts thankfully can be very cheap to purchase. Take a look at your local grocery and butcher and see what they offer you. Fortunately it has not caught on yet how delicious these organs are, so since there are less people seeking them out there are deals to be had. If you have a hard time finding them in an average grocery, check out an Asian market and see if they happen to carry them. Anywhere you get them they likely will come frozen, but this is perfectly fine since it is said that freezing the giblets does not hurt the flavor or texture.

The liver

The duck’s, of all the assorted edible livers, is considered to be one of the best you can eat, whether it’s been specially fattened or not. As with gizzards, there are many things one can do with them. They can even be cooked and eaten whole, but I decided to do something a little less boring this time around; I decided to make a pate de foie gras out of mine. There are 3 terms you really should know to be able to intelligently discuss duck liver that are all related to one another and are sometimes confused: Foie Gras de Canard, Pate de Foie Gras de Canard, and Mousse Foie Gras de Canard.

One of the most culturally French foods in the world, Foie Gras literally translates in English to “fatty liver.” While some are stringent in their opinions that the term foie gras can only apply to a properly fattened goose liver, Larousse Gastronomique lists duck along with goose and makes no special addendum when terming both fatty livers as foie gras. What is special about French foie gras is that it is legally mandated by French law that 80% of the content of pate de foie gras has to be made of goose or duck liver that has been specially fattened; the fattening process is said to create a more sweetly decadent, fattier liver. Foie gras made outside of France can be made from goose or duck livers that are naturally fed, but technically the resulting dish cannot be considered a true foie gras. Some states in the United States even have laws against products derived from force-feeding animals and therefore have no true French-style foie gras at all. In America, it is said that 80% of the foie gras sold here is made from duck. Unless you travel to France, expect to get a less traditional type of foie gras made from a duck or just a mock foie gras made from a naturally fed duck or goose liver… or both.

Foie gras de canard, sometimes confused elsewhere as pate de foie gras, is just the fatty liver of a duck. What you do with your foie gras is up to you! Besides just modestly cooking and eating it whole, you can grind the liver up with flavors and spices and create pate de foie gras to serve either by itself sliced up like a bread loaf or serve it on pastry, bread or crackers of some sort.

Pate de foie gras

While you can confit the livers to make pate de foie gras, I chose to simmer them in spices. Get a large pot, fill it with water and add some salt, spices and herbs. I chose a few bay leaves, some whole peppercorns, and salt. You can really add whatever you want, but I chose to keep it simple. Bring the water to a quick boil and then bring it down to a simmer for 10 minutes to bring out the flavors in your spices. Add your duck livers and simmer for another 5 minutes or so for a total of about 15 minutes. The livers should still be a bit pink inside, so to judge adequately, think about 5 minutes of simmering for each 450g (or 1lb) of liver. I only had livers from one duck so I simmered the livers for about 2 minutes. When they’re done, drain the livers, remove the spices and put the livers in a big bowl along with butter, diced onion, mashed garlic, dry mustard, chili powder, apple vinegar and bourbon. If you don’t like one of those items, feel free to omit it and/or add in something else, like nutmeg, juniper berries or even cinnamon. Use about 120g (or 1 stick) of butter, 1/3 of an onion and 4 cloves of garlic per 450g (or 1lb) of liver, and employ the rest of the spices to taste. A splash of each liquid should be enough. When you’re done, mash everything together with a fork. Taste it, and add salt or more of a particular spice if you think the mixture needs it. Find a pretty, shapely dish to put your pate de foie gras in and let it chill. When it’s done you can either unmold the pate and slice it or you can simply spoon it and spread onto toast or crackers. I loved this recipe- I actually used it to make a quesadilla with some of the leftovers (I’ll get into that recipe in a subsequent article!).

Getting lost in translations

Loosely translated as bread of fatty liver of duck, pate de foie gras de canard confused me at first. Pate, in French, means some sort of pastry, dough, batter or pie. So, it made perfect sense that when talking about a pate, it was not about some French meatloaf sans pastry. Julia Child and Martha Stewart seemed to agree that a meatloaf lined with bacon and cooked in a terrine constituted a pate that was sometimes called a terrine. I thought to myself, how does that make sense when the French word directly means some sort of pastry? Anyways, to bridge the culinary gap between terms, I believed at first that pate de foie gras had evolved into something much more practical than pie-like pastry with foie gras. I began to think we’ve merely substituted fancy baked pastry for toasted bread and crackers. It made perfect sense and it was immediately understandable why the essential piecrust associated with the name of the dish fell by the way. I still wondered, why are so many pate de foie gras dishes served without a cracker or other breaded accoutrement? It wasn’t until much later that I realized something else: pate is another word for bread. Perhaps pate de foie gras got its name because it was literally a loaf of meat! Finally. My troubled thoughts had been satisfied. It turns out, the proper name for pate baked in a pastry or pie is called “pate en croute” and when pate is baked in a terrine, it is properly called “pate en terrine.” It all seems so straightforward now. Perhaps with this thorough explanation, some of you won’t have to experience the frustration I went through trying to sort through the terminology!

I’ve seen a few great recipes for foie gras recently. Jaques Pepin published a recipe for “Duck Liver Pate”: a recipe for foie gras served with bread. With ever-delicious duck fat in the hot pan, you brown some shallots, add in one foie gras, some herbes de Provence (a compilation of herbs typical of Provence such as savory, fennel, basil, thyme and rosemary) and some fresh garlic. Cook over medium high heat for a minute or so before adding salt and pepper. Put everything into a blender with a splash of Cognac and puree. For extra smoothness, put the mixture through a fine strainer. Chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours and serve with toasted baguettes or crackers. Just so you’re aware, if for some weird reason you don’t finish your pate that day, it will keep covered in the refrigerator for about 4 days. While pate is, some say, the best way to enjoy duck liver as it is such a pure concoction, another way to enjoy duck liver and elongate the experience is to make mousse foie gras de canard.

et la mousse

Mousse foie gras de canard, or fatty liver of duck mousse, is about 55% duck liver whipped together with cream, eggs, and spices baked in a terrine and served hot or cold. Sometimes called a parfait (though parfaits are officially known to be chilled sweet desserts, not savory mousses), this type of dish is as complicated and gorgeous as it sounds. I have not had the privilege of trying this dish yet, but I’ve collected a small arsenal of recipes standing at the ready to serve me when I get the opportunity.

A talented chef from the Culinary Institute of America suggested a somewhat simple mousse foie gras recipe in one of his video blogs. You start by marinating the liver in brandy for a day, then pour it all into a blender with eggs and cream. While it is mixing away, drizzle in some duck fat. Mix until it is well blended and smooth. Put the whole thing into a terrine (again a sort of meat-loaf style mold) that is sitting in a water bath (properly termed a Bain-marie). Bake for about a ½ an hour in the oven at 175°C (or 350°F). The mixture will set up into a rich mousse- a seemingly impressive sight to behold! I look forward to trying this recipe soon when I gather enough duck livers to fill a terrine. It continues to amaze me how limited our food supply is in such a populous area of this country.

While the previous recipe is admittedly a bit vague as far as exact measurements, another interesting recipe that is more specific includes 570g (or 1¼lb) of duck livers, 450g (or 1lb) of hard pork fat, 180ml (or 6oz) of cream, 6 egg yolks, 55g (or 2oz) of salt, 1 teaspoon of mixed spices and 60ml (or 2oz) of brandy. Just puree the livers and pork fat together with the seasonings in the blender, then add the brandy, cream and egg yolks. When it’s finished, pour everything into a terrine sitting in a Bain-marie and cook in a 160°C (or 325°F) oven for about 25 minutes or until firm. When it cools a bit, pop it in the refrigerator and serve cold the next day. When you feel confident, change around a few of the ingredients while maintaining the same sort of ratios. To have fun in the kitchen and be a true chef you need to develop a sense of what foods are going to do with each other, and there is no better teacher than experience. This mousse dish excites me because I feel how very adaptable it really is. Some ingredients you may want to play with in this recipe are shallots, garlic, different liqueurs, nutmeg, thyme, rosemary, Balsamic vinaigrette and dry mustard. Another idea is to layer the pate with asparagus in the terrine so when you carve into it there is a very appealing design.

A great type of mousse to make from repurposed, already cooked pate de foie gras is Mousseline de Volaille by Julia Child. Basically, you cook a handful of shallots with butter and 475ml (or 2 cups) of stock to start. She suggests mixing in gelatin, however I don’t like to cook with gelatin. If you want to use it, she says add a couple of envelopes- or 2 tablespoons. Put the mix into a blender along with two cups of cooked duck and a ½ cup of cooked foie gras. Feel free to take out some more of the duck meat and replace it with more liver. Puree all of the ingredients together in the blender. Add a few tablespoons of brandy or wine and some pinches of salt and nutmeg. In a chilled bowl with a chilled whisk, beat 175ml (or ¾ cup) of whipping cream until it has doubled in volume. Fold the puree into the whipped cream and put it into a mold. For this sized dish, a 1.5-1.75l (or 6-8-cup) mold works best. Julia suggests refining the dish by lining the mold at the bottom with congealed stock jelly, but I find this somewhat repulsive so I would just say use a nonstick mold, cover the entire thing with wax paper and let it chill for many hours before serving.

Over to you

I hope I have made you think twice about just tossing duck gizzards, heart and liver meats into a stock or -gasp!- just throwing them away altogether. If you have problems locating big bags of frozen duck innards, please don’t lose hope and be resourceful. Call up any market, specialty store, farmer’s market and butcher you can think of. If you can’t have them for the moment, I found that everyplace I called had chicken gizzards and chicken livers at least. You can substitute chicken for duck if you can’t wait. What’s comical is most food purveyors sell chicken gizzards but act like it’s so odd when someone requests duck gizzards! Is it truly that far of a leap? If you encounter this attitude from someone, ignore them, continue on your search, and enjoy the chicken innards for the meantime. After trying the duck gizzards, heart, and liver just once, I feel as if a whole new world of cooking has opened its doors to me. It’s like discovering chicken for the first time. While these 3 innards are certainly an adventure to be had, there is an even more mysterious world of innards awaiting you in duck cooking! In the next article, I will delve into cooking and utilizing the head, neck and feet of a duck. You may be surprised at what you can do beyond the stockpot with these items as well!