Saturday, April 5, 2014

Heart of the matter

Hello dear readers and welcome back to myself.

I have been exploring a lot of different things in my long absence, and I will endeavor to share my discoveries and experiments with with you. Some of my explorations have been new techniques, others new recipes; definitely new styles, and interesting new ingredients.

As a matter of fact, the inaugural return post with deal with something that was very trendy (tho now getting out of fashion) in cool cuisine, which is offal. Offal (which sounds like awful, and which most people with so-called civilized tastes will consider them so) are the odd bits of animal that are not easily thrown on a grill for a manly meal. Most of them are pretty much un-barbecueable, and so, not worth consideration. They are also in some way a source of shame, as they are not the sanitized steaks and roasts, anonymous pieces of flesh; they are the kidneys and tripes, oxtails and pork belly, trotters and tongues, and the subject of this entry, the hearts. 

They remind us civilized, modern people that the meat comes from a living beast, but also that for most of us, our families did not always have the monies to get the good stuff, so they had to get creative with the leftover bits. It's all good, since that such thrift gave us the wonders of cured meats and sausages, but the internal bit, with required more care and knowledge are just as delicious and interesting, common through the majority of human culture and cuisines. It totally falls into the nose-to-tale philosophy of chefs like Fergus Anderson.

Hearts are probably easier to find in ethnic grocery stores and good butcher shops. Locally I am more easily able to find pork hearts, but I found that my local grocery store also carries beef heart. Chicken hearts are some of the most commonly available odd bits in most grocery stores, but their size makes their preparation different, and thus, the subject of a different entry.

There is a significant difference in size between beef and pork hearts. If you want to try your hand on the cheap, I'd suggest pork, unless your dietary restrictions do not permit you so, then go for beef. Of course, if you can get your hands on lamb, veal or goat, then by all means use that, the principles are the same.

You'll notice that whichever kind you'll get is already partially trimmed and will have several cuts; this has to do with the food inspection agencies that will require those cuts to inspect the flesh for any sort of defect or parasites. In some ways, this will be handy for use when we'll be preparing the meat, in some others, it will be something of a burden. As much work as has been done, it still needs to be trimmed further. Here's Chris Cosentinoanother chef who became known for using offal is showing how to trim a beef's heart:

Of course, a pork heart is smaller, so doing these nice steak-like cuts are not realistic. Given the cuts in the organ, it's difficult (but not impossible) to use the organ whole, but for a first time, your best bet is to use them to separate it in easy to handle pieces. Do not throw away the trimming, as while they are not easily eaten, they should be kept aside to make a very flavorful stock.

Once that you have trimmed it all, start dicing your pieces in fairly equal portions and using a very sharp knife, a mezzaluna, or a meat grinder, chop it all to as small, fairly equal chunks as possible or desirable. My suggestion of choice at this point would be to mix that up with ground meat, a mix of beef and pork being a good choice to keep the right balance of flavor and moistness.

Another way would be to cut it into strips of equal sizes and pan fry them on high heat. A third, if you're feeling ambitious , would be to keep it whole and stuff it. The one very important thing to keep in mind about hearths is that it is lean, flavorful meat. The fat is trimmed  and lays entirely on the outside. Keeping in mind that fact, it has a deciding factor on the cooking method: either quick on high heat, or slow in a braise or stew. If your selection is super fresh, you could clean and chop it finely and serve it as a tartar, but it would be something that I would only recommend for beef or veal, maybe lamb, but not for "white meats," due to the higher chance of salmonella or other bacterial infections.

In upcoming posts, I will detail some of the methods that heart can be used according to the cooking methods.