Cibreo, also known as everything-but-the-cluck stew, is an interesting Italian sauce off the beaten path of the usual tomato sauces, ragus, sugos, and things you might associate with Italian cooking. It’s a literal, visceral celebration of chicken, and speaks to a time when nothing was wasted. Not. A. Thing. This version is basically a little stew of fried, creamed chicken livers scented with nutmeg with a secret ingredient to thicken it, but earlier version were much more, interesting. The dish, by a conservative estimate, is at least 500 years old, and well documented, with versions of it being served to this day in Tuscany.
I’ll get to the foner parts of the sauce, but first a little bit about the dish, since the history is almost as rich as the finished product. Story goes that cibreo was one of Caterina de Medicis favorite dishes, the woman credited with bringing things like artichokes and culinary techniques to France when she married King Henry II. She was a lover of food, and, according to Guliano Bugialli in: The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, she liked it so much, that she nearly ate herself to death on it. What sort of poultry dish would someone gorge themselves on? If you guessed Cheesy Turkey Helper, think again.
Cibreo is a testament to whole animal butchery, and nose to tail poultry cooking. Accounts vary a bit, but one thing that I find fascinating, is that the farther back in history you go, the more offal seems to appear. The version in Bugiallis book lists the following ingredients: crests, waddles, combs, livers, testicles, and the crowning glory: unlaid eggs. Like I said, everything but the cluck. For comparison, a modern version of the sauce will probably include chicken livers, thickened with beaten egg yolk—a logical evolution since most people purchase chickens in parts now, as opposed to harvesting their own birds.
Interchanging offal in a recipe is easy enough, but unlaid eggs are an interesting variable. From what I can see, the original recipes definitely included whole unlaid eggs, if they were small enough to not have a developing shell, but eventually, like the transition over time from whole bird offal to just livers, eventually became just an egg yolk binder.
Now the big question: what’s it taste like? Well, it’s good, really good—one of the richest things I’ve ever eaten. And it’s easy to see why. The version I have for you here goes like this: take some pancetta or bacon and fry it crisp, then dredge some chopped liver and hearts in flour, fry it in the bacon fat, add a bit of shallot, wine and stock, a few scrapes of nutmeg, and thicken the sauce with the unlaid eggs beaten with cream. Just imagine fried chicken livers in gravy on toast, on steroids.
- 1 oz pancetta or bacon diced
- cooking oil as needed
- All purpose flour as needed
- 6 oz chicken livers and hearts
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- Fresh chopped parsley or chives to garnish
- Kosher salt to taste
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Fresh grated nutmeg to taste
- 1/2 cup chicken stock highest quality
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 medium-sized unlaid eggs or 1 large egg yolk
- Toasted bread for serving, preferably sourdough
- Cut the livers and hearts into small, bite-sized pieces. Remove any remnants of the gall bladder or sinew.
- Pack the livers and hearts in paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. Break (pop) the unlaid eggs into a small bowl, mix well with the cream and reserve.
- Heat the bacon in an 8 inch saute pan and render the fat until crisp, then add the remaining oil. Toss the livers and hearts in the flour, and add to the pan and cook until browned all over and crisp, tossing occasionally. Add the shallots and cook for a few minutes until lightly colored.
- Sprinkle over the ½ teaspoon flour, cook for a minute more, then deglaze the pan with the wine and cook until nearly dry. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer, then cook down until it looks like a nice, rich gravy. Season with the salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Turn off the heat.
- Stir in the egg cream and mix well, swirling the pan to distribute it and heat the egg through. Keep stirring gently for a minute more—the egg should thicken the sauce lightly, then pour into a boat or bowl, garnish with some parsley or chives and serve with toasted or grilled bread.