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The Off-Cuts — A matter of heart

06/13/2013 7:56 PM

06/13/2013 7:56 PM

Nose-to-Tail cooking is not a set of rules or recipes.

It is an idea, a philosophical approach, that seeks to find use and deliciousness in every single part of the animal, literally from the nose or snout to the boney or cartilage laden tail and all glorious bits in between.

Offal. Off-cuts. Organs. Nasty bits.

They come by many names, but most aren’t made to sound particularly appetizing. They are the parts of the animal that have fallen out of favor in modern times.

Go to your average grocery store and you are likely to find requisite glamor cuts of tenderloin, strip steaks, ground meat and various roasts, all shrink wrapped neat and nice on a pastel hued Styrofoam death bed.

Even at the meat counter, your selection is likely to be similar, with very few offal or off-cuts of heart, kidney, tongue or tail there to remind you that yes, your meat was once a living breathing animal.

Some people don’t like to associate their food with living animals, though I find this line of thinking sad in many ways.

Not only is consuming every part of the animal a more respectful and responsible way to eat, it can be an economical and downright delicious way to eat.

Cultures throughout the world celebrate the riches of offal, some for its wide spectrum of flavors and others due to its availability and cost as a cheap source of protein and sustenance.

I think it is high time that more people, as many chefs do, delve into the delightful world of offal.

The heart is an essential organ in any animal. Just like animals, hearts come in many different sizes.

On the larger end, you have beef heart and the smaller pig heart, all the way down to the much smaller versions like chicken, rabbit and duck hearts.

Heart is an amazing cut, as it is loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals, and is very low in fat. All hearts have a similar lean, firm texture to the meat, with bits of sinew and fat around the outside, which are easily trimmed away.

Beef heart is large and therefore can yield much more usable meat. After trimming any fat or hard spots from the outside, you can open the heart up and trim any veins or non-meaty bits that might be present.

At this point, the heart can be cut into more even sized sections, sliced into thin strips or even cubed and ground.

As it is a very lean and dense muscle, heart is best when cooked quickly, medium to medium-rare inside, so as to keep it lovely and tender.

This makes beef heart a perfect pair for summer grilling as you can prep, marinate, cook and eat beef heart in a relatively short amount of time.

The meat itself has a strong beefy flavor with the slightest hint of liver-like mineral notes and can stand up to many different complementary flavors.

I like to use heart as what I call a “gateway organ.” So many people are put off by the unknown, mysterious nature of offal that they are reticent to even try it.

But beef heart is such that were you to see a thin skewer of it, you might mistake it for any other cut of lean beef. But once that beef heart hits the taste buds … that’s when a whole new world of flavor opens up and the journey to the center of the animal begins.

Seared Beef Heart and Watercress with Pickled Walnut

Beef heart is not terribly difficult to find with a little searching out. Where there is beef, heart mustn’t be far. The hearts in this recipe are from Wells Family Farms, a local organic farm in King City, MO. After trimming the heart of any undesirable bits of fat, sinew or silver skin, cut it into equal sized piece to cut the strips from. Think of the thin strips of heart as similar to a steak when cooking, you want to sear or cook quickly over high heat and leave the inside a lovely, blushing pink.

Makes 4 servings 1 large beef heart (1 1/2 to 2 pounds) or 2 smaller beef hearts, trimmed, cut into thin strips Wooden skewers 1 tablespoon sherry or balsamic vinegar 1 garlic clove, crushed Salt and pepper, to taste 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes, (optional) 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 to 3 cups young watercress 4 pickled walnuts, halved

Thread strips of heart onto wooden skewers. Heat grill or cast iron pan on high heat. In mixing bowl, combine vinegar, garlic, pepper and chile flakes. Whisk in olive oil and pour over heart skewers. Marinate for a short time, 10 minutes to an hour. Add salt to the heart skewers, then place onto well oiled grate of grill. Sear heart to nice golden brown, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or so. Flip skewers onto other side, cook very briefly to finish. Add skewers to plate with watercress and pickled walnut, finish with a drizzle of good olive oil, if you are so inclined.

Source: Tyler Fox

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