Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche holds an esteemed status on the Puerto Rican table. Though it is most commonly served during the holidays, this flavor-filled recipe is our favorite year-round. Don’t poo-poo chicken gizzards if you have never given them a chance. People who claim to hate it often rave over this recipe. It’s made with a bold pickling sauce called escabeche and can be eaten on its own or with rice.
What are Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche?
Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche is made with tender chicken gizzards and green cooking bananas smothered in a vinegar and oil sauce. I like to add a ton of aromatics to my recipe, but the main flavors are creamy (from the guineos), meaty (gizzards), and acidic (from the escabeche sauce).
Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche (ghee-neh-EE-toes cohn moh-YEH-hahs ehn ehs-cah-beh-CHE) is a main course. Well, kind of. Some people eat them as a side dish, but I serve the dish for dinner or lunch as the main event in our house. Guineito is the diminutive form of guineo, which is what Puerto Ricans call a banana. Don’t confuse green cooking bananas with the yellow Cavendish bananas that you add to your banana bread. Though they are the same variety, green bananas are ungassed before arriving at the grocery store. That means they have no sweetness. At this point, the bananas are more like a potato than they are a regular yellow banana.
Where does the dish come from?
This particular recipe comes from Puerto Rico. I have no doubt that other Caribbean countries, and some Spanish-speaking countries, have their own versions of this dish. For my family, it was a recipe we only ate during the holidays. In Hector’s family, they ate it more often.
Bananas most likely arrived in Puerto Rico with the enslaved peoples brought over to work the sugar plantations. Chickens most likely came from Asia to the islands in the same way. Much like the history of the U.S., the enslaved peoples created dishes like this using the parts of the animal that the upper-class Puerto Ricans (mainly descendants of the Spanish settlers) eschewed.
Throughout the years, guineitos con mollejas became a dish beloved by many Puerto Ricans regardless of social class. It is also one we have come to expect on our holiday tables.
What do I need to make Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche?
To make Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche, you need the guineos (green cooking bananas), mollejas (chicken gizzards), white wine vinegar, lime juice, and extra-virgin olive oil. Those are the basic ingredients for any recipe. My version, as always, puts a lil’ stank on it. I also add sofrito, red bell pepper, purple (or red) onion, garlic, olives, capers, allspice, peppercorns, oregano, bay leaves, and salt.
Everything cooks in a caldero or dutch oven. So, though this recipe is straightforward, the nature of mollejas means it requires some time. Like I always say, though, you’re worth it.
What are mollejas?
Mollejas is the Spanish word for chicken gizzards. Well, actually, mollejas de pollo is gizzards. Mollejas actually means sweetbreads, but we’re not talking about beef or lamb here.
What part of the chicken do gizzards come from?
A gizzard is an organ. More specifically, it is the muscular stomach of a chicken.
Because chickens don’t have teeth as we do, they swallow little pebbles and sand to help break down their food. Using the pebbles and stones the chicken swallows, the gizzard breaks down the food to fuel the poultry. Gizzards are surrounded by a thick, yellowish membrane and covered with a thin layer of silver skin. For them to be enjoyable, gizzards require a pretty decent cooking time to tenderize them. My version cuts down on that time considerably.
Don’t confuse gizzards with giblets. The latter is the offal from the chicken: the liver, heart, gizzards, and the other edible organs. All poultry have a gizzard, so you can make this recipe with whichever bird you can get your hands on.
What do mollejas taste like?
A lot of people who turn up their noses at gizzards have never tasted them. I think they’re just turned off by the thought of what they are. They really do taste like chicken. There’s nothing exotic or lowbrow about them. It’s just chicken. In fact, I would choose gizzards over white meat chicken any day.
The biggest issue people who have tasted them have is that they ate gizzards that were too chewy or tough. That’s usually the result of them not having been properly tenderized before they were served. Poor things. Gizzards aren’t one of those situations that you can throw in a pot of oil, and they emerge buttery-soft. Hector found that out the hard way when he decided to fry them without tenderizing them first.
How do I prep the gizzards for this recipe?
So how do you avoid tormenting yourself with chewy mollejas? Easy, trim them, then tenderize them.
I will admit, I go a bit farther than most when it comes to trimming my gizzards. They have this thick, wrinkled membrane surrounding them that serves absolutely no purpose other than to skeeve me out. It feels rubbery and tough even after the gizzard is tender, so I just get rid of it. If you’re a fan of big textures, you can trim just the really hard middle membrane. The one that holds the two halves of the gizzard together.
I trim it all away using a paring knife. Image 1 shows the underside of the molleja. That blue-ish silverskin is one of the only things I would leave on the gizzard, but I had time that day, so I got rid of it. Flip the gizzard, so the wrinkly side is facing up. Use your paring knife to cut between the thick, yellow membrane and the deep red organ. When you hit the cutting board, make a sharp right turn and slide the knife between the silver skin and the gizzard. The dark red nugget will pop out, leaving the silver skin and membrane behind.
Now all that’s left to do is to cut the molleja into 1/2-inch pieces. My gizzards were miserably tiny, so I only cut the big ones in half. You may have larger ones which will make this whole process a lot easier. Just cut yours down to bite-sized pieces.
Can I use other parts of the chicken for this recipe?
You can replace the gizzards in this dish with dark meat chicken if you can’t get over the thought of eating them.
Just bake or sauté 1 1/2-pounds of diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs and proceed as instructed. You won’t simmer them like you do the gizzards. Just cook them to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). Boil the guineos and all that as well.
How long do I have to cook the mollejas?
Watch how easy the rest of this recipe comes together.
Add the trimmed mollejas to a 8-quart caldero along with the first quantity of salt. You want to season the meat a little bit before it cooks to ensure it has flavor at the end of the recipe.
Pour the cold water over the gizzards. Make sure it’s covered at least 4 inches by the water. Bring this up to a boil over medium-high heat.
Once the mollejas begin to boil, decrease the temp to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer the gizzards for 45 minutes. If you decide to leave your mollejas in bigger pieces, you’ll need to increase the simmering time. Larger pieces can take up to 2 hours to tenderize, which is why I cut mine into bite-size pieces.
The gizzards will create foam on the surface of the water, which is normal. Don’t fuss about skimming it. We’re going to strain it all off and rinse it away before long.
Can I cook the mollejas in a pressure cooker?
You can cut the cooking time down on the mollejas if you have an electric pressure cooker (or Instant Pot).
Trim and rinse the gizzards as above, and add them to your pressure cooker pot. Add one cup of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to the pot. Seal the pressure cooker according to the instructions. And bring the pressure cooker up to “high pressure.” Set the time to cook for 25 minutes. Allow the pressure cooker to depressurize naturally for 15 minutes before draining and rinsing.
The only reason why I’m not a huge fan of using the pressure cooker for this is that you now have to boil the guineos separately. Pressure cookers end up turning the banana to mush.
How do I know when the gizzards are done?
The best way to see that your gizzards are done is to give one a bite. Mollejas are ready to go if they have just a small amount of chew to them. Think about the chewiness of good calamari or steak. It’s okay if the gizzards still have a bit more chew because they will continue cooking for 12-15 minutes while you cook the bananas.
Can I make vegetarian guineitos en escabeche?
You absolutely can! All you need to do is omit the mollejas and increase the amount of guineos to 10.
Everything else in this recipe is free of animal products, so that would actually make this a vegan dish. Good on you for asking!
What are guineitos?
Speaking of guineos, while the gizzards are simmering, you can prep your green bananas.
Green cooking bananas are not sweet at all. If you have trouble finding them in your regular grocery store, ask the produce manager if they can get in “ungassed bananas.” If they’re mean and say no, then you can head to a Hispanic, African, or Asian market. They’re more likely to have them.
So, they aren’t plantains?
No, plantains are larger and starchier than green bananas. A plantain tastes even more like a potato than guineos, but they aren’t really interchangeable in this recipe because of their texture and flavor.
So, when shopping, avoid the big plantains, but steer clear from the yellow bananas as well.
How do I prep the guineos for this recipe?
Depending on how green your guineos are, you can probably peel them like you would a plantain. If they’re super green, you might want to soak them for 10 minutes in hot tap water.
Cut the ends of the bananas off, and make a slit with the tip of your knife down the back and front of the bananas. Soak the super green bananas in the water until they start to turn a greyish-black. Use the fleshy part of your thumb to push up and run your thumb down the length of the peel. You might not have to soak the bananas if they’re not too green, but you do have to peel them.
Once you peel them, cut them into 1/2-inch thick slices and put the slices into a bowl. Add just enough cold water to cover the bananas or about 2 cups.
How long do I boil them?
Once the gizzards have simmered for 45 minutes, or they’re just tender to your bite, pour the bananas in with their water.
Bring the liquid in the pot up to a boil by increasing the temperature to medium-high. Once the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot. Simmer the bananas for 12-15 minutes, or until the guineos are fork-tender.
Pour the guineos con mollejas into a colander and rinse them with cool water. Allow them to drain while you prepare the escabeche sauce.
How do I make the escabeche?
I usually make the escabeche in the same pot as the mollejas and guineos. I do give it a quick rinse and scrub out any big pieces of gunk, though.
Add the oil to the pot and heat it over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmy on the sides of the pot, add the purple (or red) onion. Next, add the kosher salt to the onions. Thinly slicing the onions and adding the salt early helps draw out the water in the onions. Which leaves you with a thick escabeche.
Sauté the onions for 5 minutes, frequently stirring to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Next, add the sofrito and the garlic to the pot. Sauté these for 1-2 minutes or until the garlic looks glossy.
Add the white wine vinegar and lime juice to the pot. I grew up eating escabeche that was made with only white distilled vinegar. While it was good, it was also borderline harsh-tasting. I like the mellower flavors that the lime juice and white wine vinegar give this recipe.
Add them, along with the red bell pepper, oregano, bay leaves, olives, and capers, to the pot and bring this up to a rapid simmer.
Tip for making your Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche more diner-friendly
Escabeche is basically a pickling sauce. So, naturally, peppercorns are a must. I add more flavor by including allspice– pimienta (in Puerto Rico), pimento in other Caribbean countries– along with the peppercorns. The issue with adding whole peppercorns and allspice is that you have to fish around them to avoid biting into them come dinnertime. I mean, they’re not poisonous or anything, but they’re not a pleasant mouthful either.
My workaround is to add the spices to a tea strainer. After closing the strainer, I lay it into the center of the pot and spoon some of the liquid over it. If you don’t have a tea strainer, you can accomplish the same thing by putting the spices in a cheesecloth sachet. Tie the sachet tightly and chuck it into the pot. If you have neither, just add the spices to the pot. We’ve all eaten it and lived to tell the tale.
Cover the pot once the liquid comes to a simmer and reduce the temperature to low. Cook the escabeche for 10 minutes stirring once or twice.
How long do I need to heat the Guineitos con Mollejas in the Escabeche?
After 10 minutes, the acidic liquids and oil will have combined with the aromatics and spices and mellowed out.
Return the guineitos y mollejas to the pot and use a spoon to gently fold them in. The starches from the guineitos will mix with the liquid in the escabeche to create this amazing, glaze-like wonderment in the pot.
Cover the pot and turn the stove off. Leave the pot on the stove and allow the guineitos and mollejas to warm through for 5-10 minutes before serving.
When are Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche commonly served?
In my family growing up, guineitos con mollejas en escabeche were most often served at Christmas and New Year’s. Along with all of the other traditional recipes, they adorned our table, along with recipes from my Black family. You can’t beat a bi-racial holiday dinner, my friend.
Other folks serve this for Thanksgiving and Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings Day or Epiphany).
Now that I’m the mom, I make them whenever I want. It’s not uncommon to find us eating guineitos con mollejas on a Thursday in September for no reason other than “because we can.”
Are Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche served hot or cold?
This is a matter of preference. Hector likes to eat it cold, whereas I like to eat them slightly warmed.
I don’t know many people who like to eat guineitos con mollejas piping hot, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there. I would try it at all three temperatures and see which you like best.
If you plan to serve them at room temperature, it’s best to only serve what you plan to eat in one sitting. Once your food falls within that food danger zone (40°F-140°F/4°C-60°C), you’re on borrowed time.
What do I serve them with?
I serve my guineitos con mollejas en escabeche with Steamed White Rice if I’m making it for dinner on a weekday.
When I serve it for the holidays, it’s more like a side dish than a main course, so I just serve it with whatever else I decided to make that year.
If you plan to serve this with the white rice, you can start steaming the rice right after putting the mollejas on to simmer. That way, you won’t have to rush between the two recipes. The rice will be done for you to serve everything around the same time without too much fuss.
How do I store leftovers?
Transfer leftover guineitos to a food storage container and refrigerate them for up to 3 days.
You can eat them cold or warm them slightly or completely in the microwave when you’re ready to eat them.
Consume whatever you heat up that day, though. Don’t return them to the fridge after you’ve reheated them.
Can I freeze Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche?
I’ve only frozen guineitos con mollejas en escabeche once, and that was to see if it was possible.
It is. But I don’t recommend it. The consistency of the mollejas became hard to chew, and the escabeche didn’t taste as flavorful.
If you must freeze them, just allow the guineitos y mollejas to cool and transfer them to a freezer-safe container. Freeze them for up to 2 months. Thaw them completely in the fridge when you’re ready for them, then enjoy or reheat as recommended above.
What other recipes are Guineitos con Mollejas served with?
If you’re looking to add Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche to a traditional Puerto Rican dinner, you might consider serving them with these:
- Pernil (Puerto Rican Roast Pork Shoulder)
- Pasteles (Meat-Filled Root Vegetable Patties)
- Pavochon (Lechon-Marinated Turkey)
Try this Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche recipe out this year, and let me know what you think in the comments below. Don’t forget to share it far and wide, too!
Guineitos con Mollejas en Escabeche (Marinated Green Bananas with Chicken Gizzards)
- 8- or 10-quart dutch oven or caldero
For the Guineitos con Mollejas
- 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams) chicken gizzards trimmed (see post), cut into 1/2-inch pieces, and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) kosher salt
- 8 cups (2 liters) cold water for cooking the mollejas
- 6 green cooking bananas peeled and sliced covered with 2 cups (500 milliliters) of cold water
For the Escabeche Sauce
- 1 cup (250 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large (2 cups) red onion thinly sliced
- 1/2 tablespoon (8 grams) kosher salt plus more to taste
- 1/3 cup (89 grams) sofrito
- 5 cloves (1/4 cup) garlic thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup (63 milliliters) lime juice (from 2 medium limes)
- 1 small (1 cup) red bell pepper sliced
- 1/4 cup (45 grams) manzanilla olives
- 1 tablespoon (8 grams) capers
- 2 large bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
- steamed white rice
- ripe avocado slices
Simmer the mollejas until tender
- Add the trimmed chicken gizzards (mollejas) to a 8-quart caldero along with the salt. Pour the cold water over the gizzards. Make sure it's covered at least 4 inches by the water. Bring the water up to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Once the liquid comes to a boil, decrease the temperature to medium-low.Cover the pot and simmer the gizzards for 45 minutes*.
- After the gizzards have simmered for 45 minutes, or they're just tender to your preference, pour the bananas into the along with the water they were soaking in.Increase the temperature to medium-high and bring the liquid in the pot up to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot. Simmer the bananas for 12-15 minutes, or until the guineos are fork-tender.
- Pour the guineos con mollejas into a colander and rinse them with cool water. Allow them to drain while you prepare the escabeche sauce.
Make the Escabeche Sauce
- Rinse out the pot you simmering the mollejas and guineos in and return it to the stove. Add the oil to the pot and begin heating it over medium-high heat.
- Once the oil begins to shimmer in the pot, add the onion. Sprinkle the kosher salt evenly over the onions. Use a wooden spoon to stir the salt and the onions to combine. Sauté the onions for 5 minutes, frequently stirring to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Next, add the sofrito and garlic to the pot. Sauté these for 1-2 minutes or until the garlic looks glossy, stirring frequently.
- Add the white wine vinegar and lime juice to the pot, along with the red bell pepper, olives, capers, bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice berries, and oregano to the pot. Stir to combine and bring this up to a rapid simmer.
- Cover the pot once the liquid comes to a simmer and reduce the temperature to low. Cook the escabeche for 10 minutes stirring once or twice.
Return the Guineitos y Mollejas to the pot
- After 10 minutes, return the guineitos y mollejas to the pot and use a spoon to gently fold them into the escabeche sauce. Cover the pot and turn the stove off. Leave the pot on the stove and allow the guineitos and mollejas to warm through for 5-10 minutes before serving.
- Serve the guineitos con mollejas en escabeche as a main dish with Steamed White Rice and slices of ripe avocado. You can also serve it on its own as an appetizer.
Tips and Tricks:
- If you leave your mollejas in bigger pieces, increase the simmering time. Larger pieces can take up to 2 hours to tenderize, which is why I recommend cutting the gizzards into bite-size pieces.
- Mollejas are ready to move forward in the recipe if they have just a small amount of chew to them like calamari or steak. If the gizzards still have a bit more chew that's okay because they will continue cooking for 12-15 minutes while you cook the bananas.
- If your guineos are really green, they may be hard to peel. To loosen the peel, soak them for 10 minutes in hot tap water after cutting off the ends and cutting a slit down the back and front of the banana.
- Add your whole peppercorns and allspice berries to a tea strainer or a cheesecloth satchet. Remove them just before stirring in the bananas and gizzards. This will make eating the guineitos con mollejas easier.
Pressure Cooker Method:
- Trim and rinse the gizzards as recommended.
- Add them to a pressure cooker pot with just one cup of water and 1 tablespoon of salt.
- Seal the pressure cooker according to the manufacturer's instructions, then bring the pressure cooker up to "high pressure." Set the time to cook for 25 minutes.
- Allow the pressure cooker to depressurize naturally for 15 minutes before draining and rinsing and proceeding with the recipe as instructed.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Green cooking bananas are not the same as yellow Cavendish bananas or plantains. Ask your produce manager for ungassed.
- All poultry have a gizzard, so you can make this recipe with gizzards from any bird you'd like.
- To replace the gizzards for chicken:
- Skip the boiling step and, instead, bake or sauté 1 1/2-pounds of diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs, to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
- Dice the meat and fold it into the escabeche sauce with the boiled guineos.
- Replace the white wine vinegar and/or the lime juice with white distilled vinegar. This will make the escabeche more harsh.
Storage and Reheating Instructions:
- Transfer leftover guineitos to a food storage container and refrigerate them for up to 3 days.
- Eat them cold or warm them slightly (or completely) in the microwave when you're ready to eat them.
- Consume whatever you reheat in the same day. Don't return reheated mollejas to the fridge.
- Cool the guineitos y mollejas completely.
- Transfer them to a freezer-safe container.
- Freeze them for up to 2 months.
- Thaw them completely in the fridge when you're ready for them, then enjoy or reheat as recommended above.