Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Gizzards and Gravy

This article originally appeared in the 2008 Holiday Edition of the Phinney Ridge Review

How to fix up your turkeys, partridges, turtle doves and other holiday birds.
By: AP Hurd

I call them gizzards, but gizzards are really a subset of giblets. Little bits that don’t look like much when you pull them out of the bird: the heart, liver and gizzard make up the giblets. The gizzard is the neck of the bird, and if you’ve ever wondered why it’s so muscular, it turns out that in the absence of teeth, it actually grinds the grain up before it reaches the stomach. Crazy.

If you’re in holiday mode, and fixing up your bird, you can probably ditch the liver. Though chicken livers are lovely in quantity, fried with butter, onion, sage and thyme, it’s probably not worth it if you only have one. Most people don’t find chicken livers that festive on the other hand, if you’re eating a fattened goose, chances are the liver is worth enough that the butcher won’t throw it in for free.

The heart and the neck should go straight into a small pot of boiling water as a base for gravy. Apart from the liver, giblets are golden. When you first look at these little pellets, you wonder that they could have much flavor at all, but if you boil the heck out of them, the resulting scummy-looking broth is exceptionally flavorful. If you use that liquid to deglaze your roasting pan after taking the turkey out of the oven, it’s hard to go sideways on your gravy.

Full disclosure: If it’s not already apparent, I am a gravy perfectionist. We used to have Christmas at my stepmother’s family’s house and the people who usually ran the show couldn’t make gravy to save their lives—it was grey, fatty, salty and lumpy. After about two years of enduring this, my father and I resorted to dramatic measures, one of us staging a distraction in another room (setting off the smoke detector, encouraging the dog to tear into the wrapped gifts, etc.) while the rest of us focused on the gravy amidst the resulting hubbub.

Here are some of our other foolproof strategies, besides the giblets, just in time for the holiday season.

1. Siphon off some of the fat in the pan before you make the gravy. This is especially important if you are roasting a fatty bird like a goose or duck.
2. Don’t go to the other extreme and siphon off all the fat since it adds a lot of flavor.
3. If you run out of giblet broth, use regular broth.
4. Worcestershire sauce and/or liquid browning. I don’t know what’s in there, but it’s good stuff.

Keep tasting the gravy and doctoring it. Work it until it tastes right. This is one of those things that you need to taste and work on for a while. Think about how salty it is. Think about adding red wine, white wine, port (for gamier birds)—make sure you boil off the alcohol. Consider adding sage, thyme, caramelized onion, onion powder, even current or cherry jam for sweetness.

Only when you’ve got the flavor just right should you thicken your gravy. For goodness’ sake, take the extra step to mix your flour or cornstarch with water before you add it to the pan. If you do this and you stir hard, you won’t get lumps. If lack of flavor is a sin of omission, then lumps are a sin of commission. Once you add the flour or cornstarch, how long you keep boiling will determine how thick it is, so you don’t want to be fooling around with the flavor at that point. If it gets too thick and you have to add water, you’ll only dilute the flavor.

That’s the whole secret. The gizzards—I mean giblets—and the tasting. Taste, taste, taste.
Happy Holidays. >>Back to main blog page

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