August 21, 2014

Awesome Cuts of Meat You're (Probably) Not Eating: Beef Heart!


Hey kids! It’s time for another installment in my ongoing adventures in culinary curiosity. Today’s unconventional cut of meat: beef heart! Eek! Yes, the heart! Is there anything—anything—more primal, more animalistic, than eating an animal’s heart? (Maybe killing the animal myself and tearing its still-warm heart right out of its chest, but cut me some slack. I live in suburbia and I’m pretty sure the neighbors would call the cops if they caught me slaughtering a cow in the backyard. Not to mention the cleanup job required afterward…)

So yeah, I did it. I bought two beef hearts when they were on sale at this farm in Northern Virginia. (Two dollars a pound! Insanity!) They’ve been in the freezer for a while, because I didn’t know what to do with ‘em. Occasionally I would remember they were in there and I’d do a little searching online for recipes. Most of them involved a grill, which, believe it or not, I do not currently own. So they stayed on ice until I found something else to do with them. I stumbled across a recipe that was for a slow cooker, and since slow cookers are pretty much the easiest way to cook just about anything, I figured I would start there. (And yes, grilling a beef heart would be more primal than putting it in a slow cooker. One step at a time.)

Warning: this post contains close-up images of a beef heart. If you think that will disturb you or make you queasy, feel free to skip this post. (On the other hand, if you’re a masochist, read on!)  


Told you it was a heart.
So here’s proof that it is, in fact, a heart.
  
I was very lucky in that it was already trimmed. Sometimes, when you buy a beef heart, it will be intact, complete with the valves, arteries, and all manner of other scary bits that you’ll need to remove because they are un-chewable, even if cooked in a slow cooker. They are basically rubber. Believe me: you’re honoring the animal’s sacrifice enough by eating the heart; you don’t have to eat the blood vessels, too. (Nor do you want to. Don’t be a hero!) Here’s a video of Michael Ruhlman cutting away some of this “stuff.”

So I didn’t have to remove any of that gnarly stuff. The heart was also cut nicely in half (presumably so the butcher could get to and remove said gnarly stuff), which made it very easy to work with.

Aaaaaaah!
To the left is the exterior. Notice the nice fat cap. That is lovely, lovely, mostly saturated fat. The heart muscle loves fatty acids, which is why it likes to keep some closeby, for fueling purposes. (Remember we talked about that here.) Below is a look from the side, so you can see how thick the fat is in some places, while it's nearly absent in others. (Actually, it's not really from "the side," so much as looking down -- that is, in anatomical terms, superior to inferior. This is basically looking down at "the top" of the heart, which has been squared off in a nice clean cut, minus the huge blood vessels.










Next is a look at the underside, or, rather, the interior. Since the heart was cut down the middle, this is a cross-section. (A frontal or coronal plane, for any anatomy nerds out there.) I did have to remove a little bit of that connective stuff, but compared to dealing with a whole heart, and all the valves and vessels, it was a piece of cake.



It’s interesting, though. Even though that fat cap is pretty thick around the heart, if you remove that, the heart itself is extremely lean. There’s no marbling like there is in other cuts of muscle tissue. Yes, I said other cuts of muscle tissue, because the heart is a muscle! I guess some people consider heart to be an organ meat, and I have no problem putting it in that category for culinary purposes, but it’s really a muscle. And a very, very active one, at that. Think about it: from the moment that heart started beating in its mother’s body, to the moment it stopped beating at the abattoir’s, that heart muscle was working. Contracting and relaxing all day, every day. Not really a whole lotta fat gonna build up inside that thing. (Just around it.) More on this when I show you the finished product.

The good news about this is that the taste and texture of heart is much closer to other cuts you’re more accustomed to (like steaks/chops/roasts), rather than the gamey funkiness of, say, liver. We’ll talk more about taste & texture after we see how to cook this thing.

I won’t bother giving you my schpiel about my four-item slow-cooker foundation. An onion, a few carrots, a few celery stalks, a can of tomatoes, and you’re good to go. (Plus some salt & pepper, but that sort of goes without saying.) 
  • 1 yellow or white onion, sliced
  • 3 carrots, chopped into approx 1” pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped into approx 1” pieces
  • 1 can (14.5oz) tomatoes – whatever kind you like, but I used fire-roasted with chipotles, which gave the final dish a really nice hint of heat
  • ¾-1 can’s worth of water (after you empty the tomatoes into the slow cooker, just fill the can with water and add that)
  • Salt & pepper to taste


Remove whatever bits you need to remove from the heart. Put the onions and most of the carrots and celery into the slow cooker. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both side of the beef heart and place on top of the vegetables. Add the rest of the carrots and celery, the tomatoes, and water. I cooked it on high for an hour and then on low for another 4 hours, but you could do the whole thing on low for slightly longer. (It might've even been ready after 3, but I let it keep going.)

Yikes! Heart, on a bed of veg, sprinkled with salt & pepper.

With all that fat surrounding the heart, I thought for sure I’d be left with a nice layer of tallow after cooling the liquid in the fridge, but there was almost none. Where did it all go? I dunno. There’s a little in the liquid, but not much, so who knows. Maybe there wasn't as much fat as it seemed.
All cooked! (And sliced into sections, 
which I did before putting it into the
 slow cooker, b/c I thought it would 
cook faster that way.)

You can cut this any way you like, so I decided to go with the most straightforward and just slice it. (I’ve heard of people doing beef heart skewers, in which case you’d cut it into strips or cubes while it’s still raw, and then grill it, possibly with some onions, green peppers, and maybe zucchini, like kebabs.) 

How did it taste? Pretty good! Like I said, it tasted more like a steak and less like…well, organ meat funk and nastiness. It cooked down a bit, too, because when I lifted it out of the slow cooker, it was noticeably smaller than when I put it in, so presumably some of its natural juices/liquid got leached out. (Which is why it’s important to drink that liquid along with the meat. Basically, this is a stew.)


Notice how lean it is—there’s that little bit 
of fat on the edge, but other than that, 
it’s solid meat with almost no visible fat. 
And fairly tender meat, at that. The stuff
toward the top isn't fat; it's celery.  ;-)

As for the texture, it’s hard to say. It was chewy, but also tender—think brisket, but a bit tougher. I imagine if it were grilled, it would be much tougher, more like a medium-well done steak. The slow cooking probably helped it stay more tender. And then again, grilling just to medium-rare would probably net pretty tender heart meat.

I did say I had two beef hearts in the freezer, so now I’m down to one. I wanted to give this first one a go by itself, in case it turned out terribly and/or inedible. I didn’t want to have to toss two perfectly good items from a local farm. So now that I know this way works, I’ll keep it in my back pocket for the future. Next time, though, I think I’ll try slicing the heart while it’s raw, marinating it in something yummy, and sticking it under the broiler for a few minutes. That’s the closest I can come to grilling without buying an actual grill. (Although now that I think about it, I’ve been contemplating getting an indoor grill pan for a while now. Maybe this is a good reason to go get one and give it its maiden voyage. With beef heart! Yikes! Well, you know what they say…go big or go home. Might as well dive into the deep end and not play around with puny chicken breasts.)

Another way to prepare beef heart—particularly if you’re skittish about eating entire pieces of something’s heart—is to cut it up into little pieces and “hide it” in chili or meatloaf. That’s a sneaky (and awesome) way to get some of these potentially off-putting cuts into your loved ones, especially kids. (Probably one of the best ways to do liver! Besides pâté, of course.)

So beef heart is obviously a good source of (lean) protein. What else does it give us? Tons of B-vitamins, iron, copper, selenium, and CoQ10. (Heart and liver from various animal species are generally the richest sources of CoQ10.) Plus, that whole nose-to-tail thing and honoring the sacrifice that I alluded to earlier.

Do you have a good way to prepare beef heart? Share it in the comments. (That is, if you're still reading and I haven't scared you away.)

And check out the previous posts in the Awesome Cuts series: 



P.S. As for anything being more primal than eating heart, sure, we could go down many rabbit holes regarding grilling said heart over an open flame in the woods somewhere (or even just a backyard fire pit), and then eating it with our bare hands, and afterward, with bellies sated, we could satisfy other primal needs that might be calling to us in the nighttime, near the fire, with the sounds of logs popping in the flames and the faint smell of smoke in the air, with the stars overhead.

P.P.S. That would be way more fun than using a knife and fork and pressed linen napkins, sitting upright at a dining table, exhibiting your very best etiquette and trying to channel Emily Post and not offend anyone’s tender sensibilities. Sometimes you've just gotta indulge your inner animal.






Remember: Amy Berger, M.S., NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition.

2 comments:

  1. Need to add this to my recipe t do list along with this one for beef heart stroganoff: http://www.lifeofcray.com/2012/12/recipe-for-heart-beef-stroganoff.html

    Could be an interesting article to update and prepost for Valentine's.

    J.

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  2. Beef heart is the cheapest grass-fed meat that I've found in Finland so it is weekly on the menu (well, this week three times and other mornings we eat ground meat, kidneys, liver and tongue). For my taste heart is neutral so I have done all the slow cook recipes that include "tough" parts. My easiest recipe is:
    Thaw heart and bone(s) in fridge for one day.
    Before going to bed, put the heart and big bone or small ones to pot and cover with boiling water and add 1 tsp salt. Add any spices you like or not ;).
    Turn the cooking stove to setting one or lowest (light boiling).
    In the morning, slice and eat with whatever vegetables you have.

    My husband complains that the fat sticks in roof of his mouth (our room temperature is between 60-68F/16-20C most of the year) as the food gets cold too fast (yes, I warm up plates). Now I am trimming the heart fat (there is the fat from bone marrow) and collecting to make tallow. I will report if that succeeds.

    N.

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