To many people, the picture above isn’t appetizing at all. Me? I see the organ meats of small game as a meal waiting to happen. What I mean by that is there isn’t enough liver or heart or gizzard in one animal to make a meal, but if you save them over the course of the hunting season you can accumulate quite a bit of meat. I have recruited my friends into this endeavor and they save all the gizzards from the ducks and geese they shoot for me. One friend also gave me a bag of rabbit hearts and livers.
A lot of people keep the hearts and livers from the big game animals they hunt but many aren’t aware that many of the small game animals we hunt have delicious organs that can be eaten as well. I have been saving the hearts, gizzards, and livers from the ducks and geese I shoot for many years now, and have used them to make some outstanding meals. Pate made from wild goose livers is one of the best things I’ve ever had; corned duck gizzards are another favorite. I don’t shoot a lot of rabbits but I get a couple every year and usually just fry up the livers, heart, and kidneys for a little snack after cleaning carcass.
I was looking through the freezer this weekend and found that bag of rabbit hearts and livers. I didn’t have enough to make a terrine or pate but I remembered reading a recipe for a liver ragu in Jenn Louis’ book Pasta By Hand. I also had a small bag of duck parts that I had found in the freezer with livers and hearts and gizzards. I figured if I combined all of it I might have enough to make a nice sauce.
When preparing the offal it is important to clean them in cold water and trim off some of the tougher membranes. Small livers are very delicate, but they do have a vein that runs between the lobes of the liver. You can cut it out pretty easily. I also like to trim away the tops of the hearts to get rid of any arteries that become tough and chewy. With a little bit of care and the right preparation, the offal from fowl and small game will provide you with some incredible meals.
2 tbsp olive oil
3 oz. pancetta (you can substitute bacon)
4 fresh sage leaves
1 small sprig or rosemary
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
½ cup dried mushrooms pulverized in a food processor (I used dried puffballs, but any dried mushroom would work)
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ cup tomato paste
10 oz. livers, hearts, and gizzards, pulsed in a food processor to break up into small pieces (be careful not to overdo it—you don’t want a paste)
½ cup red wine
2 ½ cups duck stock (chicken stock works as well)
½ cup heavy cream
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat and add the pancetta. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the fresh herbs and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Add the onion, dried mushroom, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Stir in the chopped livers, hearts, and gizzards and cook for 4-5 minutes. Pour in the red wine and bring to a boil, cooking until almost all the wine is evaporated. Add the heavy cream and stock, and bring back up to a simmer. Continue cooking over low heat until the sauce begins to thicken. Serve with your favorite pasta or gnocchi.