Thursday, April 28, 2011

How I Stole Your Heart (And Ate It!)

Ok, so maybe not your heart in particular, and no, I didn't steal it, but bought it from Jim, along with a freezer chest full of other locally organically raised meat. It was a calf's heart. Riss and I had eaten heart at a couple of fancy restaurants and really enjoyed it, and in our persistent quest to prove to the world that we're not sissies, we felt we couldn't pass up the opportunity to make some at home.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of heart at home is there is no hiding what it is. Most of the time the meat we eat at home looks like, well, “meat”, solidified animal protein that could have come from just about anywhere on just about anything. It's a very abstract experience. In general, and with no personal interest in learning butchering, I have no problem with this, but if you're going to eat meat, you should be comfortable with meat's status as former animal. Every now and again, just to maintain a meaningful relationship with your food, you should look it in the eye. And if you can't, well, you should make friends with Deborah Madison and Didi Emmons (they'll be good to you). When we unwrapped the package, there was no hiding that we had a heart on the kitchen table.

Here's the video we watched to learn how to clean it.

Even though we were only going to cook half of it for the meal we cleaned the whole thing, but it was kind of a pain. The chef in the video makes it look fairly easy, but he's had practice, and what isn't easy with practice.

But that effort is part of the point of cooking anything challenging. It obviously relates to flavor, but not inherently; complexity does not equal tastiness. But complex meals or cuts of meat that take 40 minutes to clean help build a relationship with food too many of us lack.

Once cleaned, as with anything butchered, the heart looked like a really lean steak or perhaps venison. We used a basic recipe from Fergus Henderson's cook book “The Whole Beast.” Henderson is the head chef (and lead personality) of St. John's Bread and Wine, in London, the restaurant Riss and I were determined to eat at while we were in London. Here's the (abridged) recipe:

Cut heart into 1 inch cubes up to ¼ inch thick. Toss the pieces in a “healthy splash of balsamic vinegar,” salt, pepper, and fresh thyme. Marinate for 24 hours. Cook on a hot caste iron skillet for three minutes on a side.

The heart, ultimately tasted almost like really good steak tips, or perhaps a beefier version of venison. It wasn't as good as the dishes we'd had at these restaurants, but for our first try, I was pretty proud with the result. What was perhaps most interesting was that the heart managed to be both rich and lean. This is probably why you generally see heart served as an appetizer (at least that's how we've seen in restaurants) as you don't need to eat that much of it to feel satisfied.

With heart at home done, we have liver and tongue to try in terms of less than typical meats we've only thus far enjoyed in restaurants. Hopefully, I'll have come up with clever titles for each of those meals.

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