Offal of the Week: Heart
Welcome back to another exciting installment of Offal of the Week! Brought to you by the always charming Ryan Adams, author of the blog Nose to Tail at Home, each week highlights a different part of the animal that you've always wanted to cook, but were afraid to ask your butcher for. This week: Heart.
I really like to consider myself a romantic, but the evidence against me climbs when I tell the story about my first time cooking heart. It was the day before St. Valentine's, and I had all of the makings of a lovely evening at home with my wife: we had wine and champagne chilling in the fridge, chocolate covered strawberries at the ready, and my wife's favorite movie already loaded into the DVD player. The only thing missing was a dinner for two. As I ran through the grocery store looking for inspiration, I hit the meat section.
As I picked my way through the meat, something caught my eye: a veal heart! I was so excited I actually did a little dance right there in the grocery store. Not only would I be able to show my wife that she still had my heart, but I could give her another one. To eat.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, and we're still together, so either she thought that the heart was as delicious as I did or the champagne, strawberries, and movie smoothed things over. As long as you can stay away from using hearts as a pun, you too can make some wonderful dishes with this underrated meat.
Heart to Heart
Heart is some of the densest meat you can find, as the constant pumping of blood tends to harden the muscle fibers. It also contains a lot of tough membranes and and ventricles that need to be removed before you start working with the meat, though according to The River Cottage Meat Book (buy on Amazon), we should leave the fat on the muscle as it helps keep it moist as it cooks.
Heart has a firm yet giving texture after cooking, with a very condensed meaty flavor that is exactly like that of the animal it came from. When it comes to preparing it, think along the lines of techniques you would use with tougher cuts of meat like shanks or short ribs: braising, obviously, but don't rule out sauteeing, frying, grilling and roasting. Stuffing is also a popular option, as the heart chambers are empty spaces just begging to be filled with sage, onion and bread — the traditional stuffing, and what I used when I followed Mr. Henderson's recipe for stuffed lamb hearts.
Tell it to your heart
Heart in any variety is a fairly rare find in your local supermarket, unless you live in the southern states of America. The usual offal haunts — a friendly local butcher, an Asian market, a farmer's market that sells meat — will score you pig, chicken and cow hearts. Lamb hearts can be found at halal markets in an intact state, while pig and beef hearts will more often than not be found split open due to government inspection laws. If you want them whole, a good butcher will probably be able to find them for you, but you'll want to give a few days' notice so he has some time to get them in. Expect the hearts to have a reddish or brown color, or if it's veal, a pinkish tint.
If you've got love for heart in your heart, and are ready to try it out yourself, here are some recipes that you should try: