Last Tuesday we discussed a few ways of preparing beef heart, a versatile organ that can be slow-cooked, quickly grilled or seared, or even ground up for heart burgers. There was, however, one application that I didn't cover due to an unfortunate shortage of heart in the kitchen. This week, there was more than enough of the organ to serve in what is certainly its most primal form: raw and unadorned, save for a bit of liquid and seasoning.
Tartare is a preparation most commonly applied to beef or fish flesh, but the idea of eating offal in its completely raw state has always appealed to me. Oftentimes I've held a brain, liver, or heart in my hands, inhaled the sweet smell of an organ that's so wonderfully pungent and perfect on its own, and felt compelled to eat it as is.
Tartare is an opportunity to do just that, to really get a feel for the texture and taste of the protein without the application of heat. Feeling inclined to check off another species of animal in my list of offal consumption, I met with chef Sebastiaan Zijp of New York City's Bar Blanc on a sunny afternoon to talk about venison hearts, which he'd just gotten into his kitchen for use in tartare.
My initial impression was that of surprise: venison hearts are only half the size of beef hearts. What the game hearts lack in size, they compensate for in smell. A whiff of the venison hearts called to mind the feeling of something wild and even a bit rank. Gamey, an amorphous term that's applied too casually to any protein that doesn't taste like chicken, pork, or beef, would inadequately describe the slightly sour aroma emanating from the raw hearts.
The venison hearts surprised me again when we tried the tartare of heart preparation on crostini. The taste was exceedingly mild, with just a hint of its mammalian origin. Still, it was the texture that made the heart worth eating raw: tender with much less of a chew than cooked heart, the tiny cubes of the chopped up organ were good enough to eat alone without the crostini accompaniment.
A classic French preparation of tartare would include some acidic elements, like lemon, vinegar, or diced capers paired with mustard, and something with a bit of kick like Worcestershire. On the Asian side of your pantry, try pairing the raw heart with yuzu, ginger, or wasabi for a change from the workhorse French flavors. The next time you with yourself with a really fresh beef or venison heart, save a few of the choicest chunks to eat raw - a fine appetizer for a second course of seared or grilled hearts.
Venison Heart Tartare
- A few chunks impeccably fresh heart, beef of venison, about 4 ounces
- A squeeze of lemon
- 1 tablespoon diced capers
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
Trim the heart for use: remove the tissue and the sinew, as well as the fat around the edges of the heart and inside the separate chambers. Use the majority of the heart for a cooked preparation, if you so desire, and reserve about 4 ounces for the tartare.
Very finely dice the chunks of heart. Add the seasonings, adjusting the flavors to taste. Serve as is, or with rounds of crostini on the side.