The Nasty Bits: Wild Venison Heart
Here is a small sampling, in no particular order, of some of the strange things I have carried with me on the subway, the bus, and through airports and planes in the past year or so:
On the subway: a large package of frozen duck testicles.
On a plane from New Mexico: Oryx tenderloin, a species of antelope native to Africa that was introduced into the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in the sixties and have since become an invasive species in the area.
On another plane from New Mexico: yak neck. From presumably the same yak that gave its testicles and liver for my eating pleasure. Who could resist?
On another subway: lamb testicles purchased at the Park Slope Food Coop, which has a respectable selection of offal from sustainable farms in and around New York. The package fell out of my purse and onto the subway platform, where, with a squish, it landed at the feet of a handsome man. "Yes, they're what you think they are," I grumpily told him before stuffing the organs back into my bag. Handsome man, if you are out there, what I should have said was: "Would you care to partake of a testicle?"
Bottom line: traveling around with offal has its share of travails. So it is touching when, returning from an out-of-state trip, a friend has the forethought to bring you back a little offal souvenir. And it's doubly nice when that friend happens to be Kenji, who shot, eviscerated, and then cooked the organ for you.
I didn't do anything to contribute to this delectable platter of seared heart and eggs, besides providing moral support and a mouth to feed. While Kenji's wife and brother-in-law stuck to Thanksgiving leftovers, he and I wolfed down a platter of venison heart that was so tender and meaty that it needed no embellishment, save for a runny egg. After trimming away the part of the heart through which the bullet entered, Kenji sliced, salted, and seared the heart with plenty of browned butter. Simple and delicious.
As we dined on the heart we discussed its culinary merits: namely, that as one of the hardest working muscles in the body, it is consequently one of the fullest flavored. But unlike other hard-working muscles like, say, leg meat, the muscle fibers in a heart are extremely short, so it still manages to be tender. Compare heart's combination of features (meaty flavor, no fat, short fibers) to that of brisket (meaty flavor, lots of fat, long fibers) to that of a cut on the leg (meaty flavor, almost no fat, long fibers), and it becomes clear why it's one of the tastiest, and most versatile cuts on the animal.
Leg meat can quickly turn tough in the kitchen: leg has neither the short fibers of heart to keep it naturally tender, nor the fat of brisket to keep it naturally moist. Cooking heart, on the other hand, you can choose the methods you'd use on leg meat—hot and fast—or on brisket—low and slow.
Unlike most other offal, heart is muscle meat, which means that its flavor is not dissimilar to that of a steak. I like to think of it as the gateway organ for those working towards a more offal-heavy lifestyle. The easiest way to cook it is to slice it into steaks about 3/4 of an inch thick, rub them with a bit of oil, salt, and pepper, then sear them in a ripping-hot skillet or grill. Bear in mind that they have almost no fat, which means that they'll cook much faster than a normal steak will, and that anything beyond medium-rare will turn them dry and tough.
And by the way, trying to get two large venison legs, a saddle, a neck, and a heart onto an airplane earns you a few odd glances from the TSA staff.
Click through the slideshow above for some pictures of Kenji's hunt, along with his comments on the experience.