Serious Eats: Recipes

The Nasty Bits: Southern Fried Gizzards

"You can never be surrounded by too many gizzards."

More commonly sold than duck gizzards, chicken gizzards are dirt-cheap and wholly delicious. I was first introduced to the glory of Southern fried chicken gizzards at Roscoe's, a chain of chicken-and-waffle houses in California. Roscoe's is a classy joint. It's a place where you'll never have to worry about running out of the whipped butter that accompanies not only the waffles but just about everything else on the menu. Pats of butter always go on top of the grits, which accompany their platter of gizzards, deep-fried to perfection in a thin and crisp batter.

When Did 'Frying' Become a Dirty Word?

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I'm not sure how we arrived at this stage in our culinary development, when the term "fried" has become synonymous with "unhealthy" or "low-class." Perhaps it's due to the prevalence of fast-food chains that use fats and oils as their sole cooking mediums, or the opinions of the medical community concerning the carcinogenic effects of high and dry heat. Think about this, though: When we use words without even meaning to be evaluative, certain terms will carry positive and negative connotations anyway.

When restaurant menus feature the words "grilled," "seared," and "poached," these terms sound desirable to us. The word "fried," on the other hand, appears with much less frequency. Diners concerned about their well-being or their weight may associate food that has been fried with being unhealthy, but what they may not consider is that at most restaurants, a deep-fryer is in operation at all times. Even dishes described as simmered or braised may have been flash-fried at some point, because frying is such an efficient way of cooking. Hot oils and fats, which may be heated well above the boiling point of water, cut down drastically on cooking time while providing the all-important qualities of browning and crisping.

It's interesting to note which foods have escaped the pejorative associations of frying. Tempura or calamari dishes, for instance, are never thought of as very bad for you, even though all the items are deep-fried. Fried chicken, on the other hand, is too often regarded as a fast food item or, at best, a guilty pleasure. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, especially considering the prevalence of dry and insipid breast meat. At its finest, fried chicken captures all the important qualities of the bird: a crisp, crackly skin and a juicy, tender interior. When I fry my chicken, I serve the breast meat to health-conscious friends and the dark meat to fat-loving ones, but for myself, I squirrel away the gizzards. Gizzards are the cook's reward for a job well done: nubby, chewy little bits with a slightly feral taste.

Gizzards, Two Ways

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Fried-gizzard-lovers fall into two camps. In the first camp, there are the succulent-loving folk, and these eaters enjoy the fork-tender quality of gizzards that have been stewed for a long time before being deep-fried. The second camp comprises the masticators, who like a bit more bite to their morsels. In lieu of stewing, these chewier-type gizzards are brined in buttermilk, which breaks down the sinewy composition of the muscle.

I can never quite make up my mind as to which camp I fall into. On one hand, stewing the gizzards for a long time is a surefire way to achieve a tender interior; as a significant by-product, a flavorful chicken stock is produced by way of cooking. The offal-lover in me, however, gravitates toward the chewier, slightly gamey taste of raw gizzards that have been bathed in buttermilk. With its acidic qualities, the buttermilk penetrates the gizzards and adds a pleasantly tangy depth that it is evident even after frying. My indecisiveness usually leads to my making these Southern fried gizzards two ways. This is fine too; you can never be surrounded by too many gizzards.

Southern Fried Gizzards in a Buttermilk Brine

About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, My Chalkboard Fridge.

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