Each week this summer, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook is helping us get to know our favorite cuts a little bit better – and introducing you to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.
Today: Get to the heart of the matter.
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There are certain offal cuts that take some…working up to. Liver and kidney are both acquired tastes; tripe is definitely adventurous eating; some people find the texture of tongues disconcerting.
Offal isn’t for everyone. But if you're going to eat meat, you might as well try every part of the animal at least once, right? Heart is the perfect "gateway offal" for the curious, and, to me, it's also the easiest to love (pun totally intended). The heart is the hardest-working muscle in the animal’s body, and all that hard work and blood pumping results in super lean meat with tons of flavor. All hearts are delicious, but today we’ll be talking about two of my personal favorites: beef heart and duck heart.
If you’re iron-deficient and eat meat, you should give beef heart a try. It's packed with easily digestible heme-iron: One serving of beef heart gives you 35% of your suggested daily iron intake. Beef heart also tastes just as good as any lean steak you can buy -- plus, it's cheaper. Winner, winner, beef heart dinner!
Cleaning a beef heart is easy in that it’s pretty instinctual: Does that stringy bit look like it might be tough and unpleasant to eat? It probably is! Run your boning knife under any excess fat, membranes, or ventricles and remove them. You are looking for a sleek, smooth surface.
If you aren’t afraid of a tiny bit of bite, you can prepare your beef heart by salting it, then leaving it out at room temperature for an hour -- just like you would do with a regular steak. Sear the heart quickly over super-high heat, either on the grill or in a cast iron pan -- about 2 to 3 minutes per side. You want it to be rare to medium-rare. Allow the heart to rest for about five minutes after cooking, then slice it into thin strips and serve. If you want extra-tender steaks, try marinating the heart overnight. The muscle is dense enough that it can hold its own against a long marinating time without “cooking” itself or getting mushy.
If you love the flavor of duck but don’t want to break the bank by buying duck breast, duck heart is a really wonderful option. You get all of the flavor of the fanciest duck breast, but at a tiny portion of the cost (you can usually get a pint of duck hearts for no more than $7). Because they're so small, you don’t have to go through the trouble of cleaning them like you do with a beef hear; you would lose too much of the muscle.
Duck hearts taste best when they're marinated overnight. After they've finished marinating, stick them on a skewer or a sprig of rosemary and grill them at high heat, turning every 30 seconds or so, for about 2 to 3 minutes.
When marinating your duck or beef hearts, go with a simple garlic and herb marinade or a bright soy and ginger one -- or use the rest of your kalbi marinade from last weekend’s beef ribs. Adjust these marinades for the amount of meat you’re using; The rule should be no less than 1/4 cup and no more than 1/2 cup of acid per 5 pounds of meat.
Photos by Mark Weinberg
What's your favorite type of offal? How do you prepare it? Tell us in the comments!
Cara Nicoletti is a butcher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Cara started working in restaurants when she moved to New York in 2004, and was a baker and pastry chef for several years before following in her grandfather and great-grandfathers' footsteps and becoming a butcher. She is the writer behind the literary recipe blog, Yummy-Books.com, and author of Voracious, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2015. She is currently a whole-animal butcher and sausage-making teacher at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg.