Sunday, March 9, 2008

Braveheart: The Beef Heart Adventure

One of the more unusual pieces we got with our beef order last year was a heart. I had no idea what to do with it. Frankly, it scared me. It was huge and encased in a thick layer of fat. But there it was, lurking in our freezer, mixed in with the more conventional cuts of chuck roast and rib steak.

I turned to the Internet to help me find a recipe that would make something frightening into something delicious. After some searching, I found this recipe for beef heart braised in red wine. It sounded like a winner, so I filed it away for some future cooking endeavor.

Such an event came together last night at our house. I was joined in the kitchen by Kim, a new friend of mine who also happens to be an actual professional cook! She currently bakes cakes for Zingerman's Bakehouse. We discovered our shared love of cooking at one of John's company dinners last year; her husband is John's co-worker. We decided that someday we would get together and cook a big extravagant dinner for our families. That day was yesterday.

I had pulled the heart from the freezer on Thursday and put it in the fridge to thaw. After a couple of days it was still a big red frozen football so yesterday morning I set it, still in its vacuum pack, into a lukewarm water bath to hurry the thawing process along. After a few hours it felt malleable so I removed it from the package, rinsed it off, and contemplated it:

What have I gotten myself into?

Well, there was nothing else to do but take knife in hand and just dive in. The first order of business was to get rid of that fat rind, followed by all the weird little stringy veins and such that were hiding inside the heart. When I had done that, this was the result:

Not so scary now!

A few more knife strokes, some kosher salt and pepper, and I had a dish full of seasoned slices of heart ready to go into my big braising pan:

Even less scary. It looks just like flank steak!

I heated the olive oil and added the beef strips. I stirred them around so they browned sort of evenly (the pan was a little crowded), then added the chopped onion, carrot, fresh thyme, red wine, and beef broth. All that was left to do was cover the pan, reduce the heat, and allow it to simmer for the next hour:

Meanwhile, Kim was busy preparing her contribution to our feast: horseradish mashed potatoes and spinach salad with candied pecans and grated Gouda cheese:

Once everything was simmering, boiling, chopped, oiled, mixed, and fully prepped, there was nothing else to do but sit back with a big drink (or two):

The chefs of the evening taking a well-deserved break.

Finally, it was time to eat. We had the beef heart, mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli with shallots, spinach salad, and warm farmhouse bread from Zingerman's (imagine that).

The majestic feast.

The heart was slightly chewy but not tough, and had a rich, savory flavor reminiscent of slow-cooked pot roast beef. It wasn't in the least bit scary and I even had seconds. I had seconds of everything, in fact. It was all so delicious.

I know heart isn't exactly something one can find in the average grocery store, but I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to make braised beef heart again.


Laura said...

Interesting - I too would be scared of heart! But it definitely looked normal/fine once you trimmed it. Perhaps I'll have occasion to try it someday...

Anonymous said...

You're brave, my friend!

Christine said...

I grew up eating beef, pork and chicken heart all the time. My sisters and I would fight over heart portions as children. Those were the good ol' days :) The recipe looks great and I'm glad to have come across your blog.

ann said...

I've found it's easier to clean beef heart when you're using it in a cooked dish is to put it (seasoned with salt and a little vinegar) in the pressure cooker on a rack for about 20 minutes. Then it's really easy to remove what you don't want. But please use some of the fat. It has a lot of flavor and will add a nice dimension to the dish. After cleaning the heart, you can still cut it up and brown it (using some of the fat). You'll also end up with yummy drippings that can go into your dish that, depending on how much water was in your pressure cooker, will provide a nice stock. I'm not afraid of fat and I find when I'm cleaning the heart this way I end up eating some of the tasty fat. Of course if you have a dog, (in my case one of my cats) it'll think all the stuff you remove a grand treat! Recipe looks great. By prepping the heart in the pressure cooker, it'll make it more tender when you make your dish. Also, meat tenderizer (like bromelain from pineapples) can help.