Culinary guilty pleasures are sort of my forte. I’d be in bikini shape by May if it weren’t for all the crap I enjoy eating.
Ambrose Bierce in his Devil’s Dictionary once defined abstainer, n. a weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from the inactivity in the affairs of others. Sounds wretched, doesn’t it? Rest assured I do not want to become something as unsavory as an abstainer, so I will carry on with the self-abuse.
One of the less glamorous yet most polarizing entrees I partake of when given the chance are chicken livers. I enjoy a little foi gras here and there, I get along with beef liver and onions just fine, but I adore chicken livers. Many find them disgusting. If you are one whose heart skips a coagulated beat (as does mine) for chicken livers I suggest you not bring them up on a first date.
We liver-loving types rarely find the organs in restaurants and are forced to trust the cooking skills and sanitary practices of gas station attendants, risking cross contamination of frozen fish, fried burritos, eggrolls and pizza sticks. But I’m not proud. I’ll wipe a gas station out of livers if I’m hungry enough. But almost every time I grab a dozen with a potato log and tiny white roll I get hoodwinked. Almost without fail someone sneaks a rubbery gizzard in on me.
I have a keen eye for livers, but the similar appearance of a gizzard doesn’t matter when you are dining on wheels. Eyes on the road, the hand delivers the wrong delicacy and I almost wreck my car. It’s the texture that I just can’t get over. Who wants to chew on a split tennis ball? My dog. That’s who. Gas station gizzards are one of the few things I cannot stand. Yet there are people out there who love the gizzard and despise the liver.
Let’s talk about what the gizzard is. Chickens don’t really have teeth, despite what my 4-year old believes. The gizzard therefore acts as a secondary stomach where the food is ground. It’s an extremely muscular piece of the chicken, and with something this muscular we find toughness. The only way to overcome this toughness is to either pressure cook, par boil, stew, or brine in a buttermilk mixture (I’d love to hear any other suggestions) before flash frying. Most gas stations aren’t going to go through that much trouble, so expect rubbery globs of flesh when dining al fresco on el camino.
There is only one place that I knew growing up that served fork tender gizzards that would almost melt in your mouth. It’s the KFC on Chantilly Street in Laurel, Miss. This is also the only KFC I have ever seen serve gizzards. My dad turned me onto these many moons ago, and he will not come within a few miles of this place without stopping for some. They are good, I’ll admit. But why in the world is a KFC serving gizzards only in Laurel, Miss.? My brother-in-law believes it must be the close proximity to Sanderson Farms chicken. Plausible, but whatever the reason they are fantastic.
A recent outing with restaurateur and newly titled quinquagenerian David Rasp (of Heroes and Royal Scam fame) found us debating the age old question: liver or gizzard? It was an organic debate, to say the least. Occasionally you will find the rare bird who enjoys both livers and gizzards, but usually it’s a bit Hatfields and McCoys. Truthfully you are more likely to find people who say they like neither, but on this day I was standing up for the liver while Rasp batted for team gizzard.
The scene was a couple dozen oysters and a couple of beers and all of a sudden we were at Hart’s Chicken on DIP and the friendly debate got real. A gallon of sweet tea a piece, a mound of tater tots and two huge piles — one of gizzards and one of livers — was the only way we could settle the score peacefully. I kept my livers on my side of the table as did he with his gizzards.
In the interest of good sportsmanship we finally had to trade a couple. I was pleased to see Rasp’s eyes light up as he took his second bite of the liver. I was even more pleased when I bit into the gizzard. I wanted to not like it. I really did. But this gizzard was easily the best I ever had. A slight edge even over the one in Laurel I bragged about. It was gizzardness at a different level. I could really taste the flavor of the meat, and the whole thing was crispy yet tender.
Agreeing to disagree became, “Oh my, these are both really good.”
Rasp now claims to be a fan of livers, but I have my doubts that our evening’s meal had as much impact on him as it did on me. I’ve refused gizzards for years, but now I must take it back. I’d be proud to muscle through a plate of these gems at Hart’s.
Yes, it really just boils down to preparation. Most are not comfortable going that extra mile for tenderness, but when someone does it’s well worth it. The risk versus the payoff is pretty high, though.
In the end, I’m still a liver-lover, but gizzard, you are alright sometimes. Which brings up an interesting question: How many of you claim you don’t like either? You may just be missing out because you’ve only had sub-par examples. Do not abstain from the liver or the gizzard. Seek out the one that suits you, gas station or fine dining. Now if I could only talk Rasp into expanding his menus…