No soup of the week post this week, I’m afraid. I have been SWAMPED with work (THANK YOU, UNIVERSE AND LOVELY CLIENTS) and have spent barely any time at all in the kitchen and am getting a bit prickly about that, quite frankly, but work is good.
Instead, I shall take you on little adventure that begins as so many of my foodie adventures do, with a text from my BFF:
Like this, right?
I know I’m a professional word nerd and all, but I never really know what to say about heart meat except that it’s tasty.
The closest thing I can liken it to is squid, but only in so far as how to handle it: it does best in fast, HOT heat, or very slow cooking in lots of liquid and outside fats.
It’s far, far richer than squid, but not ultra-gamey, like kidney. Not even close to liver, yet still incredibly resilient to picking up flavours that aren’t its own.
The other thing about heart, especially beef heart, is that it’s just really, really big, innit? I neglected to weigh this heart, but I’m sure it was a good 4-5 pounds before trimming.
And a little bit of heart meat goes a loooooooong way.
Like, a really long way.
Rob and I ate a goodly-sized portion of the poutine each and there’s so much leftover…plus about 1/3 of the braised heart meat that I’ve frozen for future use in a soup or something.
I have regrets about not taking a good third of it for charcuterizing. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.
But it’s tasty.
Hearts also aren’t as difficult to dress as I made it out to be in my text to Megan, I just feel like they are…that hindsight again. It’s not like childbirth where an influx of funky hormones prevent you from remembering the vivid details of bodily trauma and all of the icky bits that go with it, but it’s not for the squeamish and you might wish you had those hormones.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that my gifted heart was pretty nicely cleaned up before it came to me.
It had been opened and most of the big ugly parts were missing:
To make sure all of the stringy bits were taken care of and the big chunks of fat were gone, I cut it down to small pieces:
As you can see, I left the skin on and quite a lot of the fat. People, myself included, have strong opinions about that skin. Many feel it must go, but it’s not like the tough, ugly membrane on ribs or the like. The heart’s skin is barely there. Condom manufacturers should study it. Once cooked, especially using a long, slow cooking method, like braising, it just fades into the background. My strong opinion about heart skin is: just don’t fuss it. It ain’t worth the work.
At the end of the trimming adventure, I was left with this wee bowl of stuff I didn’t want in my dish, but did toss into the freezer for stock-makings:
The rest, I am not going to lie, is pretty time and labour intensive, even if most of it is passive.
As you can imagine, heart meat holds quite a lot of blood. Blood is great and all, but I wanted to get rid of some of that for browning purposes, so the whole shebang went into a freezer bag with half a cup of cider vinegar, a quarter cup of sea salt and enough really cold water to cover. Into the fridge for an hour and then the heart was pretty much ready to use.
Not-so-pro tip: Use the technique above plus 1/2 cup of sugar on liver and kidney (halve the kidneys first) to neutralize some of their gaminess if you’re not a big fan of the gaminess of liver and kidney. Leave it longer and/or switch out the solution a couple of times for a more dramatic effect.
I’m not going to share with you a recipe for fries. Just use what you like – I will share my method for really great baked frites at some pint when I remember to write it down properly. Also, everything that comes next is very imprecise because there are just too many variables in braising, most of them down to the size of the heart one might end up with plus how one’s kitchen is equipped, but I’ll give you the secrets to a really gorgeously rich braised beef heart poutine, regardless of the details.
What you need:
- One beef heart (or as much of one as you’d like to use) dressed as described above
- 1/2 lb of bacon
- Olive oil
- A bottle of red wine you enjoy drinking because you’re not going to use it all in this recipe
- A cup or so of stock – this can be any kind of stock. For this adventure, I used a rather citrusy pork bouillon dissolved in boiling water because I like testing my taste buds. You do you.
- Water – you can actually use all water and forget the wine and/or stock, just season accordingly
- A teaspoon each or so of juniper berries, caraway seeds (carvone por mi corazón!) and nutmeg – lightly ground
- A couple bay leaves
- 2 goodly-sized yellow onions, roughly chopped
- Four or 18 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
- 1 large carrot, roughly chopped
- An herb or herbs of choice – I used my beloved French tarragon for this, but Rosemary, thyme, oregano, savoury and others are good choices, too
- Salt & pepper to taste
What you do:
- Drain and rinse your heart pieces.
- Dry them thoroughly with a kitchen or paper towel.
- In a large, oven-safe pot with a well fitting lid, cook your bacon in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat.
- Once the bacon is done, remove it and set it aside.
- Reserve the bacon fat in a bowl, leaving about a tablespoon and a half in the pot.
- Increase the heat under your pot to medium-high and brown your heart bits in the bacon fat in batches, making sure to not overcrowd the pot and adding bacon fat as necessary to keep the pot well-lubed.
- Once all of the heart bits have been browned, set them aside and reduce the heat to medium-low, add a little more bacon fat and your onions.
- When the onions just begun to brown, add the garlic and spices.
- When the onions are quite browned, add the celery and carrot and more bacon fat, as necessary.
- Preheat oven to 325 and make sure the racks are in position to accommodate your lidded pot.
- Let this mix cook for a good five minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Deglaze with wine or liquid of choice, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to lift the crisp bits until the bottom of the pot is clean.
- Add enough liquid of choice to cover the veg by an inch.
- Add the bay leaf, your herb(s) of choice and any remaining bacon fat and stir everything in.
- Taste now and season with salt and pepper accordingly.
- Lie the heart bits atop the veg, pour in any liquid they’ve released.
- Lid the pot and shove it in the oven.
- Cooking time will vary according to pot size and how much you have in it, but three hours is pretty typical.
- Check on the contents every hour or so to make sure the liquids aren’t getting too low and top them up as necessary.
- After about three hours, test doneness by cutting into a piece of heart. A thoroughly braised beef heart is not dissimilar to a brisket, but it’s not going to fall apart at the touch of a fork. It should be very tender, with no pink at all.
- Once the heart bits are done, set them aside.
- Return the pot to the stove top and add a cup of cold liquid of choice (wine, water, broth).
- Remove the bay leaves.
- Use an immersion blender, food processor or blender to combine the pot’s contents until they’re completely smooth and return them to the pot (if necessary).
- Heat the sauce/gravy over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally and adding enough liquid to make it very loose. You’ll notice that we didn’t use any proper thickening agents. That’s because the veg will do this work for us and it will be plenty thick.
- Bring it to a low boil for a good two to five minutes. This will darken the sauce.
- While that’s boiling, cut some of your heart bits into bite-sized pieces.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer and add your heart bits to it.
- Taste test and season with salt and pepper, accordingly.
- Continue to heat until everything is hot, adding liquid as necessary to keep it loose as the sauce will thicken quite a lot once it’s plated and cooling.
- Serve over fries and good cheese curds that have been brought to room temperature (ya know: squeaky).
- Devour that damned delicious heart-thing!
I was actually so excited about cooking this silly meal that I began dreaming about it a week beforehand…except the heart was a head and I kept trying to determine if the brain was essential to the dish and nothing made sense, as dreams are wont to do.
I don’t know how I kept it a secret from Rob for almost a month, but even after posting this to his wall for Valentine’s Day:
He still thought he was getting heart-shaped poutine (I forgot the curds and had to have him pick them up on his grocery run).
Seriously, though: Bless this guy for indulging my whack-a-doo ideas. Especially when they involve offal.