Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cooking with Heart

And I don't mean that in a "taste the love, hootie-hoo" kind of way, either.

Valentine's Day 2007 found me in a particularly black mood. I decided to celebrate the holiday of love by taking one of it's most beloved symbols - the heart - and doing something special with it.

So I took a beef heart, slow-cooked it in red wine and beef stock for three hours, and ate it. Like I said, a black mood. And actually, it was quite tasty. Seriously, I would recommend everyone trying to cook with a beef heart at least once - it's a cheap cut of meat, and it's nutritious, flavorful, and if cooked properly it's quite tender. Good stuff.

So, recently I'd been thinking about that dish and decided to try doing something a little fancier with it. I pondered making a classic Bœuf bourguignon, but I found an old church cookbook my grandmother gave me that had a simpler, somewhat bastardized version of that recipe, which had an appropriately less-fancy name of Beef Burgundy.

I purchased a nice two-pound heart from the grocery store (you can see in the picture the valves were trimmed out - are we hungry yet?). Beef heart is actually quite cheap, and I was hoping that by braising it and slow-cooking it in the crockpot for several hours, it would turn into a nice, tender, tasty cut of meat.

Ah, Flossie - nobody had a heart as big as yours, old girl. Or as succulent.

So, the first step was to make a seasoned flour mix of flour, thyme, salt, and pepper, and dredge the beef heart in it. While that was sitting and allowing the flour to permeate it, I heated up some oil and some chopped bacon in a large pan and fried until crispy. The bacon was removed and into the bacon-y oil I chucked some onions and some nice quartered baby bella mushrooms. After those were cooked a bit, they were set aside and it was time for the heart to get browned in the frying pan. Typically for Beef Burgundy (or bourginion, if you prefer), you used cubes of stew beef, but I decided to leave the heart whole while it simmered and carve it at the end of cooking.

So, with the heart browned all over, I set it aside and took out my crockpot. I heated up some beef stock and some Burgundy wine, and added the heart to the liquid. Lid on, set it on HIGH, and I went off to clean house a bit while the heart cooked, and slowly tenderized from the acidic wine.

Three hours later, the onions and mushrooms joined the simmering heart in the crock pot for one hour, and voila - done! I wasn't very happy with the thickness of the liquid in the pot, though, so I whipped up a little thickening agent with some flour, melted butter, and some juices from the crockput, and stirred that back in and cooked it for another 15 minutes.

Now that it was finished, I took the heart out of the crockpot and cut it into cubes.
You can see from the picture that the appearance and texture of a cooked heart really isn't that distinguishable from other cuts of beef.

I boiled some whole-grain egg noodles to go with, and dished myself up a plate. I thought it was quite tasty - the hours of slow-cooking had made the heart tender and easy to cut. It still had a very slight rubbery texture to it and also a slight gamey taste that made me think of venison, believe it or not, but still delicious. However, a 2-lb heart made a LOT of Beef Burgundy, so decided to take a bit in to work and see how people liked it.

Not that I was going to TELL them what it was, mind you.

So, I dished up some noodles and beef into a Tupperware container and gave it to my boss' assistant. She took it home for lunch, and I took the container I brought for myself and heated it up in our break room. The first person I gave this to was our accountant, who took one bite, and proclaimed it "good". She wasn't fooled for a second, though - apparently she'd eaten much stranger foods, and while she didn't quite get what it was she was eating, she knew it was not typical beef and she didn't really care. Poo - I was hoping for a more dramatic reaction. Oh well.

As I was heading back to the break room, I crossed paths with one of the ladies from our HR department. I asked her to try it. She took a bite, and proclaimed it delicious and it was "sooo gooooood".

Then I told her what she'd eaten. Her eyes bugged out, and she immediately turned and hurried into the ladies' room. AH, now that was more like it.

Meanwhile, my boss' assistant came back from her lunch break. I asked her if she liked it. She gave me a VERY tight-lipped smile, and said "I liked the mushrooms."

Me: "How about the beef?"
Her: "Yes, I had a piece of the beef. I liked the mushrooms."

Enough said.

The final unwitting subject was our receptionist. I honestly wouldn't have offered her a taste, but she could smell it and remarked that it smelled delicious, so of course I HAD to offer her a taste. She tried it, and liked it. At least, she did until I told her what part of the cow she was eating, and without the slightest hesitation, she turned her head, opened her mouth, and leaned forward slightly, letting the half-chewed piece of heart hit the countertop with a splat.

Her: "I can't BELIEVE you let me eat a cow heart, you ASSHOLE!"
Me: "I can't BELIEVE I didn't wait until you'd actually SWALLOWED it to tell you!"

I still have a Zip-loc bag of the leftovers in my freezer. I think I'll save it for the next church potluck.

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