Updated: Feb 10
What is a gizzard anyway? It is the stomach organ of poultry, and it gets a bad rap for being gross when it really isn't. The stomach muscle holds a little leathery sack inside it that holds small stones that the poultry picks from the soil to help grind and digest bugs, foliage, and seeds that also mingle around in the gizzard. These little stones that often contain high mineral content are essential for healthy a bird's digestion. This is one reason poultry raised on open pasture in grassy ranges is more robust than caged birds or cooped birds without pasture access.
Often, small poultry processors discard gizzards or are considered scraps for dog food. Some people don't like them because they find them rubbery or too chewy, but there is a way to make them soft and supple with two flicks of the wrist. I have always saved gizzards, livers, hearts, and "fries" (rooster testicles). I know that they are better tasting and healthier than commercial meats due to the feed, care, and environment I provide for our poultry, and each time I process chickens, it yields an extra few pounds of meat, equaling a few extra meals. I am not sure why anyone would want to throw out or discard meat that they have worked so hard to raise.
The process is relatively simple, a little time consuming, and it takes practice. You might not get it right the first few tries, but that is the only thing you have to get past to successfully start using all of the respectful parts of the poultry. It helps to have a freshly sharpened knife and a spray bottle of vinegar. The vinegar will help keep this process clean from start to finish.
Remove all of the entrails from the bird and separate the gizzard. I'm using a large rooster gizzard here, so it is easy to see and understand. You will find it has two parts of the digestive tract connected to it: the esophagus and the duodenum. With your knife, cut the digestive tracts off as close to the gizzard as possible.
Hold the gizzard in your hand with the most centered opening on the gizzard facing up. The other opening will be a little off more to the side of the gizzard. If you find it too slippery to hold on to because of the fat, spray it down with the vinegar, remove any excess fat and rinse well.
I use a small, somewhat flexible fillet knife that is easy to maneuver. Gently start making a slice down the center of the gizzard facing you. Slicing down to the middle of the gizzard, like cutting an avocado down to the seed. Think of the top opening on the gizzard as the stem of the avocado. The knife's blade will start to slow and stop once it reaches the gizzard's outer membrane. Make your cut long enough to be able to get your thumb inside this opening. The soft fleshy outer layer will start to peel back, no longer feeling like a hard rock.
Looking very closely and working very carefully, cut the gizzard's white outer membrane open to expose the wrinkled inner stomach pouch. The inner pouch is a different color, usually grey or yellowish. Use your backwoods skills here as a surgeon, this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but the meat doesn't get tainted with gastric juices when done correctly. Try not to cut, puncture or tear this innermost pouch as it can also expose unhealthy organisms onto the meat. If your gizzard spits-up, tears, or spills, spray with the vinegar immediately and rinse again. Don't leave the vinegar on the gizzard. It will make it tough.
Once you have exposed the inner membrane and gotten your grip on it, start carefully peeling back the gizzard to expose the inner pouch. Go easy not to tear the pouch open. A healthy bird will have a thick leathery pouch that isn't easy to tear. Chickens raised in a closed-in coop area without adequate stones, high stress, or a crumble diet may never develop this healthy, thick layer of protection for the gizzard leading to ill health.
Remove the pouch and discard. Spray the entire gizzard down with vinegar again and rub it thoroughly. Remove any excess fat (I leave some on when frying) and rinse well. Soak in an ice bath until all gizzards are ready for packaging or consumption. I drain mine in a strainer and vacuum package. They will keep for 2 years in the deep freeze. Before cooking, I always freeze gizzards to err on the safe side because we do not use any worm or parasite medications other than diatomaceous earth in our livestock. Once in a blue moon, we will get one a little undercooked when frying.
For a tender and easy to chew gizzard, remove the "stars." No, this isn't a technical term, but just an easy way to remember to cut out the little shiny thin center tendon that resembles a fat and flattened star when removed. Removing this tendon will divide the gizzard into three parts and remove all the rubbery-chewy pieces.
Lay the gizzard with the inside white part up on a cutting board. Flatten one of the thin white tendons down on the cutting board with two fingers. Working from the center out, using a fillet knife, skin the outer tendon off the gizzard. Half of your star will remain connected to the gizzard, and a small portion of the gizzard will come free.
Flip the gizzard 180° and repeat the process. This will free a "star," the rubbery, chewy white thing from one half of the gizzard.
Repeat the process on the other side of the gizzard to "free your other star." You can save these tendons for simmering down with your bone broth, but I like to give them to my dogs. The glucosamine is good for them, and I like to share the bounty since my dogs don't eat dog food. Okay, so the stars are ugly... but I wear glasses, so they are blurry and crooked in the sky anyway.
Either sort your gizzard pieces out by size for cooking or cut down the larger middle pieces so all of the pieces are approximately the same size. Don't be concerned with the white membrane left on the insides of the gizzard. It may be a little unsightly, but there is plenty of nutrients in it, including a carbohydrate-protein complex called koilin.
Gizzards are well worth the work, considering this organ meat provides a good dose of high-quality protein, B-12, iron, niacin, riboflavin, selenium, and zinc, all of which are good for the immune system and brain function. They are great slow-cooked. We enjoy them in giblet gravy, chicken noodle soups, vegetable soups, pickled, on the grill, and of course, fried with a little hot sauce.
I have been homesteading for two decades. If you are interested in more information or blogs, visit growingbacktotheland.com. If you like reading adventure stories, I have written a novel about my self-reliance journey available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon - Growing Back to the Land.
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