[Warning - this post contains offal]
It was supposed to be three.
Three ways with heart.
A hat trick of heart-y preparations to entice the brave and convert the wary whilst trying all the while not to scare off the timid.
The third of these was to be a long, slow braise. I had visions of spoon tender meat in a rich, beefy gravy similar to the French Laundry braised beef short ribs. The reality was a little disappointing.
Most meat that needs slow cooking is a network of fibrous muscle protein and connective tissue layered with strata of fat. As the meat cooks it becomes tender (due to the break down of the collagen) and very tasty.
A braised lamb shank is the classic example – cooked properly a gentle shove with a fork should have the meat collapsing off the bone like a tower block undergoing a controlled demolition.
But heart, I came to learn, is different. The meat is lean, tightly packed and without the necessary additions of collagen and fat that make a truly rib-sticking braise. Rather than falling apart into tasty strands, the meat constricts and seizes up into dense, rubbery nuggets that taste nice enough but texturally are not pleasant.
It was with a heavy heart (arf arf) that I admitted defeat on this one and fed the chunks to some very grateful cats who I doubt appreciated the time, effort and bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that had gone into the dish.
So, two ways it is.
The first thing you notice about an ox heart is its sheer size. They are great, hulking vast rugby balls of meat. Weighing in at a shade under three kilos, even accounting for the necessary ‘trimming’, there is plenty of meat here. A similarly sized rib of beef would set you back around £45. A three-kilo piece of sirloin closer to £70.
The heart cost a tenth of the price – about £7. Even if it merely served to slake my curiosity it was still cheap.
Once the whole thing had been trimmed of anything that looked even vaguely unappetising (no mean feat considering its size), a third of the meat was thinly sliced to be marinated overnight, a third cut into chunks to braise and a third finely diced for a ragu.
The braise, being something of a failure as already discussed, is probably best not dwelled upon so we shall move swiftly onto the more successful preparations.
The first of these was a simple ragu. Finely diced heart meat browned in oil then cooked long and slow with a soffrito of onions, celery and carrot, a little cured bacon, half a bottle of wine, some good beef stock and a tin of tomatoes.
Five hours under a cartouche in an oven barely warmer than a Swedish sauna was enough to create a tasty sauce that works well over pasta but isn’t even close to being as good as one made with cheek.
Far more successful though was the following:
A South American preparation, anticuchos seems to be a fairly generic term for ‘meat on skewers’ and can be made with almost any type of meat. The most famed, though, are made with beef heart.
Marinated overnight in ground cumin, garlic, chilli and oregano mixed with olive oil and red wine vinegar, the thinly sliced heart is then concertinaed onto wooden skewers before being grilled over hot coals.
Cooked quickly like this means the meat has little opportunity to constrict and toughen up. The light charring of the barbecued meat adds a warm, deep savoury note and the marinade, pepped up with the sharpness of vinegar, really lifts the dish.
After 5-6 minutes over hot charcoal, the meat was picked off the skewer onto a hot flatbread and served with rocket, a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise and the leftover marinade cooked down with some tomato puree.
‘This is a conversion dish,’ claimed the GF, whose initial trepidation evaporated once she got a whiff of the hunger inducing scent that is created when meat is introduced to hot coals. ‘This is seriously good. Really good. Good enough to convince non-offal eaters, in fact.’
She was right. Anticuchos is the sort of food that you could easily dish up and dazzle with at a barbecue. Questions over provenance could easily be waved away with vague mutterings about ‘steak kebab’ until the hungry throng come back for seconds.
By that point they will already have undergone their Damascene moment. Oh, you are offal. But I like you