I could have posted something spooky-adorable for Halloween, but instead I offer something more…visceral. The weather is turning colder, our thoughts are turning away from salads and ice cream to warmer meals. This stew happens to fit the theme of the day, but it’s not a holiday gimmick–it’s genuinely delicious. I cook it from October until the geese fly home in the spring.
Firstly, some reasons that you shouldn’t let hearts and gizzards scare you off: For starters, the meat tastes much the same as regular dark meat chicken—it’s a good meat to start with if you have an aversion to eating organs. Unlike liver or kidneys, hearts and gizzards are just muscle. In a slow-cooked stew like this one, the texture and flavour are similar to chicken thighs. Secondly, organ meat is good for you. Many meat farms “plump” their chicken breasts and thighs with saltwater to make them bigger (and therefore more expensive). Some brands of chicken are 30% saltwater by weight. The saltwater solution includes a chemical to prevent it from leaking out during transport. Organ meats don’t undergo this same treatment and are usually minimally processed. Lastly, it’s easy to cook and very cheap to buy (mine cost $1.70 per pound).
Plus, you can weird out your friends and when they ask what you’re eating.
Gizzards and hearts usually come in the same package, though you may find just gizzards alone. The heart is at the top. The gizzard (bottom) is a small, hard-working muscular organ that grinds up seeds, nuts, and other tough food material. It may come whole, as in the picture, or in smaller pieces. Halve the hearts lengthwise, and to prep the gizzards, cut along the thinner silvery parts, and also halve along each “lobe.”
The recipe is straightforward and no-fuss. I dredge the chicken hearts in flour so that the flour melds with the oil in the pan to create a roux, which gently thickens the broth and underpins the stew with a richer flavour. The aromatics are quintessentially Hungarian—onions, garlic, lemon. One important feature of the dish is the length of time the aromatics spend by themselves in the pot. Many soups and stews put too much emphasis on the contents of the stew and don’t take the time to build a foundation for the flavours. If you find your soups are flat and boring, spend more time with your aromatics. Letting the onions break down in the pot for a good 15 minutes on slow heat gives them a chance to release all of their flavour and give the broth an intense richness. If you skip this step and just let them simmer in the stock, you’ll miss out on a lot of flavour or texture.
This stew features the chicken hearts at center stage, but if you prefer to bulk up the soup with something else, diced potatoes or half a cup of rice would work well. Stir them in during the last 20 minutes of cooking and simmer until they’re tender. Peeled red bell peppers and carrots would also work well. It’s a rustic stew, so it adapts well.
Notes & Variations: Most supermarkets carry hearts and gizzards (usually mixed) in the poultry section, but if you can’t find them, regular chicken thighs will do. Sweet paprika also works, but smoked gives a beautiful rounded flavour to the broth. For a gluten-free version, substitute corn starch or another flour for the all-purpose flour, or omit altogether for a thinner broth. If you don’t have preserved lemon, you can substitute the zest and juice of half a fresh lemon. You can use white wine instead of red for a less hearty broth.
Hungarian Chicken Heart Stew
Makes 4 servings
1 ¼ lb. chicken hearts and gizzards
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. butter, divided
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 red onions, diced
1 tbsp. minced preserved lemon
1 tbsp. minced fresh garlic (2 or 3 cloves)
2 ½ tsp. smoked paprika
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
½ cup dry red white
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- Rinse meat and pat dry. Prepare gizzards by peeling off any yellow skin, then halving each “lobe.” Prepare hearts by slicing lengthwise in half. It’s a rustic stew, so the pieces don’t have to be perfectly even, but try to keep the size more or less uniform. Sometimes a piece of liver sneaks into the package—throw it out, since it will make the stew bitter. Toss gizzards and hearts with the flour and 1 tsp. salt.
- Heat a large heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium-high heat, then add 2 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. olive oil. When the butter is melted and sizzling, add the chicken and sear, stirring frequently, until the outside of the meat starts to brown. Add the wine and continue stirring until well combined. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and set aside.
- Add the remaining olive oil and butter to the pan and melt over low heat. Add the onions, preserved lemon, paprika, a few grinds of pepper, and the remaining ½ tsp. salt to the pot. Cover and let the onions sweat over low heat until they soften and start to break down, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the minced garlic and simmer another 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken and wine mixture back to the pot, then add the chicken stock and stir well. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer gently until the meat is tender, at least one hour. Stir in chopped oregano 10 minutes before serving.
Recipe by Catherine McClelland.