According to the National Turkey Federation, 88% of all Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving. It took only a very quick internet search to find that data.
A report on how many people eat turkey giblets was harder to come by. I’ll bet it’s fewer than 88%. That’s a shame! In my opinion, the contents of that little bag tucked inside the turkey carcass are the best part of the bird.
What do you do with that bagful of innards? Maybe this is you: rubber gloves encasing your hands and eyes tightly squeezed shut you reach in, haul out the sac of guts and promptly hurl them in the trash. Many people shiver at the mention of liver. Some positively turn ashen at the thought of eating the heart, the neck and the stomach. But throw them out? That’s just an awful thing to do to offal! Bring ‘em on, I say!
My mother always cooked the neck, gizzard, heart and liver in the roasting pan alongside the bird. They got “done” long before the turkey was ready. She’d bring them out of the oven, lay them on a saucer and sprinkle them with salt. She and Dad would eat them as a snack before preparing the rest of the meal. Once I was considered mature enough to deserve a taste, I became hooked. So tasty! So rich! So, well, hearty! After that, we fought over who got what.
Many years later, after having cooked many turkeys on my own, I attended a lecture at the University of British Columbia presented by Margaret Visser. Once referring to herself as “an anthropologist of everyday life,” she was a popular commentator on CBC Radio, delving into detail about how we came about doing many of the things we do. I loved her books, “The Rituals of Dinner,” “The Way We Are,” and “Much Depends on Dinner.” Her topic that day was “Rites of Holiday Feasts.” I wish I could quote verbatim to tell you about it, but it was too long ago. I do recall her talking about the olden-days; medieval origins of holiday meals when large roasted fowls were served to large crowds. The privilege of eating heart of the bird, it seems, was reserved for the chieftain of the clan. Visser explained that this rite was passed along down until today mother and father, husband and wife, maintain the privilege of eating the heart and other giblets (cooked!)in the kitchen, privately, before guests arrive. Maybe Ken and I are the last ones on earth to do this, but I nearly shouted in that lecture hall, “YES! We do that!”
When Ken’s family first invited me to their turkey dinners, I discovered another use for giblets. Stock for the gravy! Ken’s mom plopped poultry neck, heart, stomach and liver in a pot along with chopped onions and let them simmer all day until the bird came out of the oven. The strained liquid was pure gold to add to the pan drippings for gravy. Why she added Bisto was a mystery to me. There was so much flavor from the giblets already.
Then as young adults we visited a Beni-hana-style restaurant – you know, one of those places where the chefs wield large Ginzu knifes deftly chopping morsels of food right in front of you and searing them on those giant grills. We were served an appetizer of chicken livers sizzled with scallions and set ablaze with soy sauce and sherry. Heaven on a plate!
Ever since, when cooking a Sunday or Thanksgiving fowl, I anxiously anticipate getting the chicken or turkey in the oven so I can chop up the liver, heart and gizzard and get them sautéing with onions and garlic. A splash of soy sauce and a swirl of butter to finish them off and we have an appetizer on crusty French bread fit for a chieftain.
Or who can resist chopped liver blended with chopped boiled eggs, onions, a smash of garlic and maybe a shot of whiskey? Yum.
And so I say to you, the lily-livered among you who toss out that bag of turkey parts: Have some guts! Honor ancient tradition and ritual and stir up those giblets in some savory way. Gobble, gobble!