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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Meat Month: Chef's Special (or On Using Offal)

One of the great things about getting meat from the farm is the variety of cuts. Nothing is wasted. This includes the poultry necks and offal. A common question that comes up when you find these in your bird, What do I do with the extras? These offal have varied textures, which are a pleasure for the palate. The heart and gizzard are dense like tuna. The liver and lungs are creamy and melt in your mouth when cooked right. But, we normally do not get a chance to eat these extra bits. There is only one set and we can't share it as part of the whole meal, so I make my chef's special to snack on while the food is cooking. If Mr. K is lucky, he might get in the kitchen in time to grab a bite or two.

I know that offal and necks aren't the first thing we generally crave in our culture. If you have never had them, or have not had a good experience with organ meat, I encourage you to give it a shot anyway.  It might take a couple of tastes to get used to the idea, but once you get used to it, I think you'll enjoy it. You'll enjoy the varied textures and the complexity of flavors.

When I prepare the poultry, I remove the neck and save it for soup (brown it with the vegetables before I add the stock). The meat will just come off as you slowly stew it, and the bones will make the soup richer. 

of·fal noun \ˈȯ-fəl, ˈä-\: the organs (such as the liver or kidney) of an animal that are used for food Merriam Webster Online

The offal gets roughly chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (remove any tough bits), and thrown in a bowl. I coat it with salt and pepper and add olive oil until it's covered. I lightly toss it, cover it, and put it next to the meat as it sits a few hours or overnight in the fridge.

Then when it's time to cook dinner, after I put the meat in the oven, I heat up a medium-sized skillet over medium heat, throw all the contents of the bowl in, and stir it and toss it until it's browned. This only takes a few minutes. Be sure not to overcook it, it might get rubbery. 

If I'm feeling particularly enterprising, I'll sauté a small onion, garlic, or shallot in the pan before I add the offal in.

If I have a lot of offal, or need to cook in a hurry with no time for the special, I'll make a scaled down version of Jacques Pepin's duck liver pâté (follow the method with whatever offal I have on hand).

These little bits are commonly overlooked, but it's the part of the poultry with the most flavor and texture. It absorbs the saltiness from the seasoning and smooth flavors of the olive oil. The mixture of meats gives you smooth and creamy textures along with substantial pieces with more bite. It's a limited amount, but no sense in wasting what you cannot share at the table.

Keep in mind, always wash your hands and your preparation surface thoroughly before and after touching raw meat.

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