The meat of the heart is eaten quite commonly in Peru, but it might surprise some of you that for centuries is was also eaten in England. Beef heart is so unpopular I get mine from a local farm for as little as £3. That is great value for a huge piece of meat. I asked a couple of butchers, some in Belgium and also Borough Market. Beef heart is the kind of cut that doesn’t get sold and that is such a shame.
The flavour and texture of beef heart is like that of a good beefy steak because beef heart is a muscle just like steak is. I find beef heart great in any way it is cooked because it has so much flavour and it is very tender. In Peru they make kebab style roasted beef heart, in England beef heart was usually stuffed with a forcemeat.
A couple of years ago I found a recipe for a stuffed beef heart in Elizabeth Raffald’s book The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769):
Wash a large beast’s heart clean and cut off the deaf ears, and stuff it with forcemeat as you do a hare, lay a caul of veal, or a paper over the top, to keep in the stuffing, roast it either in a cradle spit or hanging one, it will take an hour and a half before a good fire; baste it with red wine; when roasted take the wine out of the dripping pan and skim off the fat, and add a glass more of wine; when it is hot put in some lumps of red currant-jelly and pour it in the dish; serve it up and send in red currant-jelly cut in slices on a saucer.
The recipe was copied later by M. Radcliffe in her A Modern System of Domestic Cookery: Or, The Housekeeper’s Guide (1823) and it was also published in a later edition of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy – A new Edition (1803). The recipe dit not appear in the first edition of 1747. Copying recipes from other cooks was common practice in those days and they were often copied word for word, making it easy to determine their source.
To make this dish slightly lighter I opted to stuff the heart with a duxelles, which is a mixture made with mushrooms, bacon and in this case kale or cavolo nero. If I had caul – a thin lace-like membrane which surrounds the stomach internal organs of some animals – like Raffald suggested, I would have used it as it keeps in the stuffing in nicely and tidy. But if you can not obtain it, some creative string-work will do the trick just fine.
The heart should be a deep brownish red with a large amount of yellow fat on the top. The fat looks a lot like kidney fat – which is suet – though it can not be used as such and is best just discarded. Ask your butcher to trim it for you if you aren’t up to the task, but there really is nothing to be afraid of here and it is actually quite humbling to make use of a heart. It is a beautiful cut of meat and flavourwise it is spot on if you want your dish to have a strong beef flavour. It is not bloody, and it does not have a particular scent. It was very interesting too, to see the blood vessels and such but I must admit I do like to trim meat as I find it a very gratifying job.
Why not try it for your next sunday roast? Leftovers can be pan fried the next day and tucked into a warm pita bread or tossed over a nice salad with either winter greens or summery ones depending on your current climate. In either case try it with a mayonnaise made with lots of chives added to it and blended.
- 1 large beef heart (mine was 5kg – untrimmed)
- 180 g bacon
- 250 g chestnut mushrooms
- 1 handful of cavolo nero or curly kale, blanched
Preparing the heart
- Your butcher might have halved it and removed parts already but usually the heart comes with muscle fat, arteries and blood vessels. This isn’t something to be scared of, it is actually quite beautiful to see what a heart looks like.
- Let’s get started. Remove the hard fat, no worries if you cut away a little of the meat, it is safer to do this then to cut into the fat which is tough. Then trim away the two flaps on the top, these used to be known as ‘deaf ears’ and you’ll see why as they look a little like pigs ears. On the outside of the heart you will notice some large arteries and blood vessels, just cut these out.
- On the inside, remove the stringy parts.
- If the heart still has a piece which looks a bit like an air pipe, remove this also until you end up with two parts of heart without any hard bits left.
- No need to completely remove the fat, a little left will be fine and it will give flavour.
Now make the duxelles filling
- Boil salted water in a kettle and blanch the kale, then refresh under cold water so the colour remains fresh and beautiful.
- Fry your bacon until crisp, I like to use 1/2 cm pieces, and remove from the pan.
- While your bacon is frying, cut your mushrooms into small 1/2 cm cubes, roughly, we will not measure it. Now fry the mushrooms in the bacon fat, adding butter if needed, but do not let them get too much colour. Normally we would season now, but as the bacon can be very salty we will do this once we mix everything together.
- Chop up your fried bacon into smaller pieces so they are not too much larger then the mushrooms.
- Now chop up your kale until the pieces are of a size which is great to mix in with the bacon and mushrooms.
- Mix everything together and season with pepper. I don’t think you will need salt, but judge for yourself.
- Let this cool.
- Place one part of the heart on a plate, if your smart, already place butcher’s twine under the heart so you don’t need to pick it up when the filling has gone in.
- Spoon the filling on the heart, then place the other half of the heart on top and tie it with the twine.
Preheat your oven to 150° C
- Get a large cast-iron skillet scorching hot, put a generous knob of butter into the pan and a splash of vegetable oil. Carefully place the heart into the pan and fry it about 3 minutes on each side, being very gentle when turning it over.
- When fried on each side place on top of a wire-rack into a baking dish and transfer to the bottom part of your oven.
- Roast for 40 minutes if you like it medium rare as I have, longer if you like it more done. But don’t let it roast for too long as the meat does need to be pink.
Serve with all the trimmings you would serve for a sunday roast.
A slightly different version of this recipe also appeared on Great British Chefs as I was asked to develop a couple of recipes with unusual beef cuts.
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