Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Two ways with Ox Heart

[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


meemalee said...

Ooh, you made a ragu like I suggested! I completely cheated and used a pressure cooker - but you're right, it's not as nice as ox cheeks.

The anticuchos looks divine -reminds me of eating skewers of salty gyutan and hatsu in Ueno.

Anna Betts said...

Hmm, I'm still a little scared but the results do look delicious. Also, I can't help but notice that the top photo would make an excellent Valentines card for the offal-lover in your life..

Alicia Foodycat said...

I'm glad you made this. It means I never have to. The only heart I have ever tried (except mince in faggots and haggis and such) was chicken and it was so rubbery and horrible I've never wanted to try again.

Sylvie said...

I wouldn't call myself timid, but have to confess that that would scare me little. I'd give it a try if you put it in front of me, definitely, but I think I'm not adventurous enough in my own kitchen.

Faerynuff said...

I'm going to try Anticuchos, sounds delicious. This warm weather we are having in North Devon at the moment is perfect for a beach barbie!

The Grubworm said...

Wow, I've eaten flocks of chicken and duck hearts before, but next them, this is a wee bit intimidating. I wonder if the bbq would work as well with lamb hearts?

josordoni said...

Ah, when I suggested a braise, I didn't think to say that we always cut ox heart into thin slices, not fat chunks like you would ordinary meat, otherwise, as you say, it stays too rubbery. Fine rubber bands are easier to chomp through than large slabs of latex.

Also, if you aren't going to use a pressure cooker, I would cook it overnight. I reckon that it needs a minimum of 6-8 hours cooking if you aren't using pressure.

Is it worth it? If you are skint, or feel your jaws need the exercise, yes. If not there are probably better things to be doing with your taste buds....

Just Cook It said...

Meemalee - it was too good a suggestion to not do. Thanks for the input

Anna - Brilliant! Love the idea about the valentine's card.

Foodycat - I think that might be part of my remit: 'eating the stuff so you don't have to'. A tagline for my business cards, perhaps?

Sylvie - It's amazing how much more appetising it looks once it has been trimmed and chopped. Just like meat, which I suppose is exactly what it is.

Faerynuff - Hooray! A convert. My work here is done

Grubworm - I see no reason why not. Maybe play around with the spices for the marinade, add some rosemary, maybe some mint. Delicious

Josordoni - Ah, yes. I see where I went wrong now. And a good summary

paul said...

I wonder if a really slow roast at say 75 C would work? Very interesting, I'm going to get an Ox heart and experiment.....

Jan said...

Wow 3 kilos in weight!
Like Sylvie said, I'm not adventurous enough myself to cook it - but everything looks good and I'd try it, if it was of front of me!

Jonathan said...

Excellent stuff. I have been pestering the lovely people at St John to let me try their ox heart sandwich but alas to no avail.

From what I've read heart is best grilled quickly to avoid it being rubbery. I tried it at St John this way and it was great. In and of itself it wasn't very tasty but the flavours that had been add to it were fabulous.

Your South American BBQ heart sounds incredible and I am going to have to try it myself. I just need to find myself a heart....

marv woodhouse said...

I like the blind tasting bbq idea, perhaps this would work with various offal - i think any food once grilled and put on stick instantly looks tasty.

Do you think it would work done sous vide at a lower temp so that the emat doesn't toughen?

PFx said...

I don't think they should call this offal nor gourmet. I think they just should call this everyday comfort food.

I love the skewered heart there. Just stabs deeps in to my hungry heart. Yum!

Just Cook It said...

Paul - It might do. I look forward to hearing how you get on

That's the spirit, Jan!

Jonathan - If any one can do it justice, St. John can, that's for sure. You shouldn't have too much trouble getting hold of one though

Marv - SV heart would work. i think Keller has a recipe for it in his Under Pressure book in fact

PFx - I think you are right. I suppose it is all to do with definitions though

Sarah-Jane - SiliconeMoulds.com said...

Certainley, barbecued - it looks not bad after cooking and I'd try it to eat if put infront of me.

However, I'm one of those who has a bit of an adverse reaction to offal and requires conversion.

Offal isn't something I'd cook and isn't something I'd order... but as long as it didn't *look* like offal, I'd give it a go.

I have tried slow cooking (crock-pot)some lamb breast today and the results were somewhat disappointing - though I did manage to salvage some meat from the layers of sinew to pass for dinner !

Niamh said...

Fantastic! Excellent closing line. I can hear a cross dressing comedian saying it (as I assume is intended :).

Love the look of the anticuchos. Nice job!