Recently in the Food Cyclist CSA announcements, you probably noticed that you can now purchase chicken heads, feet, livers and hearts. Long ago, these parts of the chicken were cherished for their high nutritional value but, unlike my grandmother’s generation, most people today don’t know what to do with it.
I can remember my grandma Shirley telling me that when cooking broth, never let the liquid come to a boil. I never bothered to ask why and only years later I found out. A rolling boil will destroy the natural gelatin found in the connective tissue. Keep it to a gentle simmer.
Cooking in my family has been passed down through generations. Those small tidbits of information are the jewels we continue to pass on. Listed below are some of the health benefits and ways of using these beneficial pieces:
Much of this information can be found in Nourishing Traditions from the Weston A. Price Foundation. I consider this my bible of traditional food.
What to do with chicken feet and heads and their health benefits:
It is commonplace in other parts of the world to purchase chickens with their heads and feet still attached. Chicken feet are a delicacy and I first experienced eating them when I visited China several years ago. You can get them in Chinatown at any dim sum restaurant.
Heads and Feet are mostly comprised of cartilage, tendons and bone. When simmering a broth, the collagen and gelatin from these parts is released along with many trace minerals. Using these parts in your broth is easy and exactly the way Mother Nature intended us to consume whole chickens.
- Collagen – Made from Amino Acids that are found in bone, cartilage and skin of animals. Collagen is used throughout the body in bone, joints and mucus membranes especially of the intestinal tract. Collagen is especially good for the skin to minimize wrinkles. Collagen absorbs better internally then using external creams.
- Gelatin – Is the protein that makes up collagen. Gelatin helps regain elasticity in skin, assist hair and nail growth, lubricates joints and facilitates recovery and is a great source of protein. Elastin, the protein that keeps skin flexible is only made in the body until roughly 12 years of age and consuming gelatin supports this process. One of the most amazing things is how much it can improve digestion. Gelatin moves food through the digestive system because it naturally binds with water. This can help with easing food allergies and intestinal issues like Crohn’s and colitis.
To prepare these parts, the feet are usually scalded, pealed and the talons removed. This is only for sanitary reasons as the chickens are scratching around in the dirt all day and they can be hard to clean. Thankfully our thoughtful Farmer John takes care of that for us, which makes it easy to incorporate into our diet. The heads I just rinse and throw in the pot or you can cut the hanging skin off and use it to make schmaltz and gribenes, an authentic eastern European Jewish dish.
Bone Broth 101:
When making your bone broth from your leftover chicken carcass, first pick off any leftover meat to add to your soup later. In a crock-pot, place your chicken bones with two feet and a head in the cavity of the body (this way your kids wont be grossed out!).
Add ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar.
Cover with cool water and let sit for 30 minutes. This will jump-start the minerals leaching out of the bones.
Add any vegetables you have on hand (including any trimmings like carrot tops and onion skins leftover from making your roasted chicken).
Once the water begins to simmer, skim off any scum that rises to the surface.
Simmer the broth for 6-24 hours.
Strain all the bones and vegetables. Your broth is now ready to use or place in the refrigerator to use later.
Here are some things you will notice about your bone broth:
- The water level may dwindle as your broth simmers. You can add more water if you like or keep a concentrated broth which is easier to store in your fridge and thin out later as you use it.
- When the liquid is completely chilled in the fridge, a thick layer of fat will form. This is called Shmaltz, which should be skimmed off only when you use the broth. Until then, it will preserve the freshness for about a week in the refrigerator. Chicken fat is great to cook with so make sure you use it (or if it grosses you out then give it to the dog). I don’t keep it in my soup as it leaves a greasy feel in my mouth.
- Your cold broth will look like jelly. There will be lots of gelatin. Don’t boil your broth as you can damage this very delicate goodness.
- I start my broth on the same night I cook my chicken and let it simmer until just after lunch the next day. This way it is cool by dinner time and I can remove the fat. Eat it as soup with chicken and veggies, use it for the base of any recipe calling for stock, or freeze it for later.
What to do with chicken livers and their health benefits:
Liver – Loaded with vitamin A, C, D, E, K, B12, Folic acid (for all you in childbearing age!), Potassium, Iron, Copper and so many more, liver is one of the most nutrient dense traditional foods.
Years ago, Liver was a common food, consumed by many. Unfortunately, with the introduction of plant-based fats such as vegetable and soybean oil, processed foods and a fear of cholesterol, people have put down their forks. Many don’t know that cholesterol is important for your body to carry out important bodily functions such as maintaining cell walls and their temperature, creating hormones, and enzymes for digestion used in breaking down fats. Also, we need cholesterol to turn sunlight into vitamin D, which is essential to bone health and calcium absorption.
In a Jewish household it is commonplace to make chopped liver but with all things, moderation is key. This dish was always served before holiday meals along with the Gefilta Fish (but that would be better for a fish monger’s blog).
Classic Jewish Chopped Chicken Liver:
- 1 package of chicken livers
- 3-4 hardboiled eggs
- 1 Chopped onion
- Garlic powder, paprika and salt seasoning
- Shmaltz (optional) as your cooking oil. Use the layer of fat from your broth or click here for great directions on making it with skin and fat. The necks have lots of extra skin and fat on them and this is a great use for it.
- In a sauté pan and with high heat, brown seasoned onions in shmaltz/oil until dark
- Add the livers and sauté until they are just cooked through and are dark on the outside
- Use a chopper and combine with hardboiled eggs
- Salt to taste
- Add shmaltz if the mixture is dry