Clockwise from upper left, the chicken neck, gizzard, liver and heart. Credit: Sam Schipani / BDN

If you just bought a whole chicken from the grocery store or farmers market, don’t throw that bag of giblets away just yet. These tasty organs have many uses in the kitchen, from creamy gravy to crispy fried goodness.

There are several different kinds of edible organs — known as giblets or offal — that will come with a whole chicken, including the hearts, liver, gizzards and neck.

Rob Dumas, food science innovation coordinator at the University of Maine, said that giblets generally will benefit from brining. Add salt and sugar to water and let the organs soak in that for four to eight hours to draw out the impurities.

“The muscles will be firmed up [and] have a cleaner taste,” Dumas said. “Some people will soak the livers in milk overnight. Milk draws out a lot of the impurities. It will look almost like strawberry milk when you’re done. I find pouring milk on to be kind of wasteful. If I’m going to waste something, a little sugar and salt is easier to stomach.”

Once the giblets are cleaned, you can cook them all together, or you can also cook them separately to take advantage of their unique textures and flavors.

With all the giblets, make gravy

The first and perhaps most popular use for giblets is in gravy. Gravy uses all elements of the giblets, though the liver is sometimes left out because it has a distinct taste and texture.

“The most common thing to do is to take everything in that giblet bag, put it in a pot with cool water, and take all the meats out of there, chop them finely and then use that simmering liquid with additional stock and make a gravy,” Dumas said. “Add all those chopped cooked giblets into that gravy. Add a chopped, hard boiled egg. That’s your classic giblet gravy.”

Depending on the consistency you prefer, you may take additional steps with your chicken gravy. For example, for a smoother gravy, you may strain it before serving.

“Use a roux — equal parts of butter and flour — instead of a cornstarch slurry to get the best mouthfeel,” said Jay Demers, department chair of culinary arts and restaurant food service management at Eastern Maine Community College. “You can leave the gravy smooth, or dice the giblets up and add them back to the gravy. I prefer a smooth gravy.”

With the neck, make stock

Another common use for giblets — except for the liver — is in stock.

“That’s my preference to just use the neck,” Dumas said. “There is a lot of connective tissue in the neck, and all of that lends pretty good attributes to making a quality stock. You could use your gizzards or the heart. Any impurities are going to rise to the surface and hopefully if you’re a good stock maker you’ll be skimming. You wouldn’t want to include livers in stock as they will give it a minerally kind of tang.”

Demers had some other techniques for making a flavorful stock with offal.

“Be sure to sear everything well so you develop some fond [browned bits of caramelized drippings from the meat] on the pan that can be deglazed,” Demers said. “This will give the final product a much richer flavor than just simmering the giblets like you would for a white stock. Don’t be bashful with the mirepoix [an aromatic flavor base of onions, celery and carrots cooked slowly in butter or oil] as you really need the aromatics. Fresh thyme and parsley stems are really helpful here, too.”

For the neck, Dumas said that you can chop it up, saute it with mirepoix, deglaze it with wine and simmer it to make a pan sauce while the rest of the chicken is cooking. Sometimes, he will grill the chicken neck alongside the rest of the bird. Boiled chicken necks are also popular in the American South.

“At shrimp boils or crawfish boils when you have that spicy bouillon, they will boil those chicken necks or turkey necks but that’s a more obscure approach,” Dumas said. “You probably wouldn’t come home to dinner in Maine with a plate of boiled chicken necks.”

With the liver, make pate or dirty rice

The soft liver can be dredged in a bit of flour and pan fried, along with perhaps some sauteed onions and a splash of brandy. Livers can also be made into scrumptious pate.

“The basics of it are: you would brown your liver to a pan, and into that pan add aromatics and deglaze with a flavorful liquid [like a] little bit of cognac or brandy or bourbon, combine that with softened butter and a little bit of cream and puree that,” Dumas said. “You might want to pass it through a cheesecloth or wire mesh sieve if you don’t have a great blender.”

Also, add a cap of rendered chicken fat or melted butter on top to prevent the pate from oxidizing. Then, simply spread the rich, creamy pate on crispy bread — perhaps with a sweet drizzle of honey, or a tart balance of raspberries — and enjoy.

If pate isn’t your thing, or you don’t have enough livers to make more than a mere pat of pate, you can use livers to make dirty rice instead. Brown the livers alongside ground meat, vegetables and Cajun spices, and add it all to rice for a flavor, scrumptious side dish.

Fry the gizzards, grill the hearts

Tough gizzards are delicious once they are tenderized through braising.

“Put them in a saucepan along with flavorful liquid and vegetables, put that one the stove on the lowest setting for 6 to 8 hours or put it in the oven at 225 [degrees Fahrenheit],” Dumas said. “You want that lovely marriage of liquid and vegetables that’s cooking along with it. Anytime there are those heavily worked muscles if you’re willing to put in the work, they will reward you with their deliciousness.”

Once they have been softened, though, they can be breaded and fried. Dumas said that often the braising step is skipped for fried gizzards, which are popular in the American South, but “man, they’re chewy.”

The hearts are what Dumas said are the “gnarliest” of the giblets when it comes to trimming out blood clots and vessels, but even this tough muscle can be the star of a dish.

“Some people like to put them on a wooden skewer, marinate them and cook them,” Dumas said. “The heart’s pumping every day, all day. Take your time with it, cook it slowly.”

Storing giblets

When you are deciding what to do with your giblets, the amount that you have available to use may impact what you can make.

“Cooking one single giblet in your crockpot doesn’t make sense but if you have 25 of them, it does make sense,” Dumas said. “A lot of times throwing it into that gravy or into that rice is an easy way to use them up in the quantity that you have them. If you have a local butcher shop, they might sell them to you for next to nothing. They might even give them to you all honestly. Inexpensive cooking project.”

You can collect and store giblets for later use, but they are fairly perishable.

“Typically any kind of organ meat, especially livers, have pretty short shelf life,” Dumas said. “By the time you get that chicken home, you want to use the liver in two to three days, max. Gizzards, neck, heart those things will last a little bit longer. They store just fine in the freezer [for] three to six months, assuming they’ve been appropriately packaged.”

Once you master these techniques, you can apply them to other fowl giblets with a few adjustments.

“All poultry will have the same makeup of giblets and will only really vary in size and therefore cook time,” Demers said. “That is, until we get into goose that is specifically raised for foie gras.”

Demers said not to get overwhelmed by offal.

“If you’re not a fan, they seem like too much work, or are like me and always buy whole chickens, you might get overwhelmed by them,” Demers said. “In this case, just slice them up and sauté them as they are great, all-natural dog treats which can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.”