Not for the Faint of adventures with organ meats

beeve heartSo today I ventured into uncharted territory with a dear friend of mine, Susan Lucas. The territory? Organ meats. Well, to be specific, hearts. A beeve heart and chicken hearts. Tomorrow, lamb kidneys.  (I've been in liver land before.) How did I get here? Long story. Well, maybe not so long. The short answer is that I am teaching a class on hearts and kidneys next week, and I needed to try out some recipes. The longer answer is a bit more complex... I have been eating a clean and nutrient-dense diet for years now. I "went organic" around 1998, which is 13 years ago...just about the same time I met Sally Fallon and discovered Nourishing Traditions and Weston A. Price. Most of my food is grown or raised locally and sustainably. I eat good fats daily--butter from pastured cows, lard, bacon fat, beef tallow. I eat ferments at almost every meal, and more and more of them lately. My food is clean food, good food. For years. But I have to say, something has been missing for me lately. Maybe because I am under stress; maybe because I have a five year old. I need more nutrients; I am hungry for something more.

The first organ meat to catch my attention was liver, the king of the organs. (You heard about that last month.) Well, I am still craving liver, so I'll have to get some more chicken livers (Sorry to say, somehow there has been a "run" on chicken livers from good farms lately...hmmmmmmm, could it have anything to do with the liver class I taught last month? Lots of converts from that one!). And I have to pick up some more tomato juice so I can have my glass of Pottenger's Liver Cocktail every day. (See Nourishing Traditions for that recipe.) Yes, it is delicious! But now liver seems somewhat ordinary, after my experience today.

heart strings

Folks, working with and preparing a beeve heart, that is a heart from a cow, is NOT for the faint hearted. No pun intended. It was quite an experience--breath-taking, really. Gives one pause. Makes you ponder life and death for a moment. Puts you right there, at the "heart" of the matter...looking your food right in the face; remembering again that when one eats meat, one is eating something that used to live and breathe and, well, have a beating heart. And now that heart was sitting on my cutting board. Wow. Four and a quarter pounds. Wow. Almost as big as my head. Veins and arteries...some blood...chambers...and heartstrings. (Yes, there are heartstrings. Like the saying, you know, "it pulled my heartstrings." Well, they really exist!) I have to admit, folks, that it really did take my breath away. I had to sit down and figure out/feel into whether or not I could do this...that is, cut up a heart and use it in recipes. (There was no question for me of "going vegetarian" at this point--I had tried it years before and it did not work for my body--or shall I say, my body did not work not eating meat!)

I understand now why most folks use "organ meat" as "mystery meat" in their menus. When heart is ground up, it looks just like ground beef. We're used to ground beef. We are not used to seeing a heart the size of a head on a cutting board.

Soooooooo, I took a deep breath and thought a bit. We know that using the organs is almost the ultimate act in sustainability, that is, in using all of the cow. We also know that the heart and other organ meat is rich in nutrients, more so than any other part of any animal.

I had heard before that organs were--and still are--considered sacred by traditional cultures because of their nutrient density. They were saved for pregnant and nursing women, and for growing children. It struck me sometime over the past week, after I had picked up my heart from the farm delivery, that organ meat IS SACRED. It wasn't just about the nutrient density of the organs. It was both the significance of the organ (like one can't live without a heart) and the fact that there is ONLY ONE per cow.  Wow. Heady. Trip.

beeve and chicken heart

Soooooo, we took another breath and I decided to start with the chicken hearts. MUCH easier. MUCH smaller. (Like about an inch long, and an ounce or so, compared to 8 inches long and 4.25 pounds.) Since we were not going to grind these up, I decided to cut out the aortas and some of the sacks that were on some of them. Then I decided to try chicken hearts two ways-floured and fried and marinated and broiled. Deeeeeeeeeelish! My favorites were floured and fried. I cut the hearts in two length-wise and then dredged them in coconut flour with some salt and pepper. I fried them in bacon fat/lard combo, about 3 minutes on each side. One third "plain"-coconut flour only, one third with curry powder added, and the last third with chili powder added. I have to admit, the plain were my favorites. Just delicious. We marinated some of the hearts whole with a tamari/toasted sesame oil/lemon/garlic marinade for about an hour. (These hearts are little, so an hour was enough.)

susan skewering chix hearts

Then onto a metal skewer (we call them spadinis in my house) and under the broiler for 3 minutes each side. (Didn't feel like firing up the grill for 4 little skewers...but perhaps at my Memorial Day bbq!) These were yummy, too, but my faves were the plain ones. I would also suggest that you cut them in half before you eat them--eating hearts whole is a bit rubbery, given that they are muscle tissue! (Next time I will cut them in half, saute in butter and make a gravy with chicken stock reduction, add fresh chopped parsley and s&p and that's it! Oh, and maybe chop them up, saute with butter and garlic, and toss into a Bolognese  sauce with oregano and basil. I can taste it now!)

So, on to the beeve heart. I am trying two recipes currently. A heart jerky and heart kabobs. AGAIN, the EASY way to get organ meat onto your menu and into your family is by serving "mystery meat", that is, having organ meat ground up like ground beef, and adding it to meatloaf, hamburgers, chili, shephard's pie, tacos, etc. The recipes we are trying is THE HARD way. Getting right in there with a knife, and cutting up the organ yourself. Takes some guts, (no pun again;)) but once you decide you're in for a pound, it gets easier. Take a deep breath. Steel yourself. And go for it. Once you do, you will see that beeve heart looks much like any other meat you currently serve your family, most especially like a good quality steak. Maybe tenderloin.

Half of the heart is currently marinating for jerky--I am trying two recipes, one based on red wine vinegar--spicy! and the other a tamari base. Into the oven on lowest tomorrow all day to dry it out. I'll let you know how that one turns out. The other half will be marinated on Sunday morning for Monday's bbq. A 24 hour soak and then onto skewers and on the grill. I'll let you know how those turn out, too.

Until then, here are a few good links I found while investigating cooking techniques for organ meat, specifically hearts and kidneys. (Stay tuned for the kidney report...I'll be soaking them tomorrow and making kidneys with mushroom cream sauce.) It's Not so Offal, Cooking with Mystery Meat, How to Eat for Less, The Secrets of Organ Meat Cookery

And if you are in the area, (Rockville, Maryland), join us for the Heart and Kidneys class on Saturday, June 4. You'll get to see, experience, and taste these delicacies for yourself!

Oh, and btw, my five year old son LOVED the chicken hearts. Couldn't get enough. Yep, kids really do know what is best for them. :)Me and the beeve heart