The Nasty Bits: Beef Heart, 4 Ways
Around Valentine's Day there was a lot of heart lying around my kitchen because I had a feeling that the penis would not be appreciated by everyone at the table. Heart, on the other hand, is a fairly likeable cut. Beefy with a just slightly gamey flavor (think kidney, except much milder), the texture of heart is something akin to a poultry gizzard. The heart is also one of the more versatile types of offal; it's tough and low in fat but takes well to either quick cooking or long stewing.
Beef heart is by far the largest of the hearts you'll find at the butcher's counter. The organ weighs in at more than two pounds of pure flesh, and even what isn't flesh can be used in your cooking. On that day everyone took a few perfunctory bites of the beef penis, but the beef heart was lauded wistfully by one friend as being "what I'd serve to my girlfriend on Valentine's Day, if I had a girlfriend." It may not be a cure for loneliness, but it does make for a beefy meal to be enjoyed with a nice glass of cabernet.
Prepping the Heart
Inside and out, the heart has quite a bit of gristle and fat (above). The fat can be reserved and rendered into beef tallow for use in cooking. When fabricating the whole heart into smaller sections, work with each chamber of the heart individually, slicing off the pockets of fat and the layer of tissue on the exterior and trimming the gristle within. One beef heart will serve at least six people, if not eight.
Pan-Searing or Grilling
Quickly browning or charring the outside while leaving the interior medium-rare is a fast and easy way to experience the heart. Like a steak, the organ benefits from being left to rest for a couple of minutes so as not to lose that beefy juice. Since the heart lacks the well-marbled fat of a good cut of rib-eye, it's best to leave the slices of heart on the rare side of medium-rare, as you would for a tenderloin, to prevent toughness. If you're cooking the heart indoors instead of grilling, it's best to quickly sear the slices on a cast iron to get a decent crust on the outside without overcooking the interior.
This particular beef heart was served with a persillade (finely minced garlic with parsley), but you could also pair it with a flavored butter as you would for a steak.
While I love fat, tendon, and marrow too much to eat a stew made entirely from heart, a couple chunks of the organ would be a welcome addition to a boef bourginon-style preparation. The chunks of heart, when stewed for two or more hours, will take on a texture slightly tougher than that of a well-stewed gizzard.
To be truly economical, you can grind up the scraps of heart to use in burgers or meatballs. Because the flesh of the heart isn't fatty, counteract the leanness by mixing the ground-up scraps with fatty ground beef. A 2:3 proportion of ground heart to ground beef is as far as you want to stretch the amount of heart in the mixture: use any more heart, and the grind won't contain enough fat.
The taste of the heart burger is not any beefier than a regular burger, but there is a faint offal taste to the grind that's noticeable to anyone who eats a lot of burgers on a regular basis (yours truly).
Beef Heart French Fries
Finally, using all that extraneous fat you'll accumulate in the trimmings, you can render the fat for using in cooking. Potatoes browned in beef fat will pair with either the seared sliced of heart or the heart burger; a judicious dollop of the fat also makes a rich addition for use in stir-fries.
About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.