We hungry humans have been keeping the humble gallus gallus domesticus -- the common domestic chicken -- for their meat and eggs since before history was even recorded. Which is a good thing, of course, because we all know the simple, true joy that chickens give us so often. From Japanese yakitori to classically Southern-fried, roasted whole in the oven, smoked slowly over apple or hickory wood, served in red pepper paste atop Ethiopian injera bread as doro wat, ground into sausages or mixed in with mayonnaise for chicken salad, the ways in which to prepare this beloved bird, as well as the cultures that have long enjoyed them -- seem innumerable.
And, like our noble pals the cow, pig, lamb and duck, there's so much more of this animal to enjoy than just its large, preferred cuts. Of course, we adore our chicken breasts, legs and thighs as much as anyone else (if not more), but we also savor everything else that this fine, feathered friend has to offer. We wouldn't want to waste anything, now would we? Best of all, many of these often unsung poultry parts are simply bursting with flavors and textures. Here are some of our very favorites, along with some friendly suggestions on how you might like to prepare them for yourself and friends.
Liver The chicken's liver, small but packed with that classic iron-rich flavor, is a quintessential part of world gastronomy. Inexpensive and easy to prepare, we're most fond of sautéing the livers with salt, pepper and onions, then grinding into a course, crumbly chopped liver suited for eating on toast or sandwiches, especially with some sweet cornichon on the side. And if you want to take it further, add a little Cognac and some herbs (or perhaps some black truffles?), and puree into a decadent mousse.
Hearts Make sure, when you buy a beautiful, whole organic, free-range chicken, not to reach inside the cavity and throw out what you find inside. We heart chicken hearts! Especially when they're seasoned simply with salt and pepper -- or sometimes with a dusting of cayenne pepper -- and then skewered and grilled over a charcoal flame. Like duck hearts, they make an excellent appetizer or snack.
Necks While you can use the necks, along with the heart, gizzards, liver and other chicken organs to make a classic giblet gravy, we love to slow cook the necks in a little stock, wine and root vegetables until the meat is falling off the bone. A wonderful way to use one of our favorite kitchen tools, the Crock Pot.
Gizzards The gizzard, a specialized organ found in the chicken's digestive track used to help it grind up food, is beloved in the American South. Not that we need much of an excuse to bread and deep fry anything, the nutty, crunchy gizzards fry up perfectly in hot oil. Top them with some basic white country gravy, and y'all will come back for more every time.
Fat If you happen to be cooking your chicken using a vertical roaster -- or a beer can, for that matter -- don't forget to reserve the fat that drips down from the carcass for later. Chicken fat, or schmaltz, as it's called in Jewish cuisine -- has numerous delicious uses in the kitchen. Excellent for sautéing (especially in chopped liver, as above), you can also use the schmaltz to "butter" your bread before toasting for a rich accompaniment to any meal.
Bones Again, wanting to leave nothing to waste, don't forget to save all of your bones to make chicken stock, which keeps for a tremendously long time when frozen. Trust us; next time you or a loved one is under the weather, some chicken soup -- or chicken and dumplings -- made with your own homemade stock will seem worth its weight in penicillin.