The romantic in us would like to think that the heart is a tender organ, but in reality, it just ain’t so. The heart is one big muscle that works constantly, and as a result it tends to be pretty tough. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s an organ meat to be avoided. Heart is high in protein and nutrients: thiamin, folate, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, CoQ10 and several B vitamins, not to mention compounds that may promote the production of collagen. It’s also an organ that can be coaxed into tenderness through different cooking methods, ultimately becoming a richly flavored cut that meat lovers will adore.
Braising is a good cooking method for a heart since simmering any tough cut of meat in liquid for a long period of time is tenderizing. But if you don’t have hours to braise or if turning on your oven in the heat of summer is the last thing you want to do, grilling is the way to go. This gives the meat a nice crispy coating, which is an ideal way to avoid the softer, chewier texture that a heart can sometimes have. When grilling, the trick to tenderness is slicing the meat very thinly after it’s cooked. Richard Freund uses this method in the Grilled Beef Heart with Roasted Chili Peppers recipe he sent in for the Reader-Created Cookbook Challenge. His idea of tossing the tender strips of heart with thinly sliced, roasted chili peppers creates the perfect appetizer and turns the heart into a cut that looks a lot like steak. Although the flavor of beef heart is slightly gamier than steak, it’s not so different that we can’t imagine adding a few more ingredients (onion, tomato, avocado) and turning this recipe into beef heart fajitas.
As far as the chili peppers go, a mix of mild sweet peppers and spicier jalapenos is a colorful combo. Anaheims, cherry peppers and poblanos are other mild peppers to throw into the mix. If you want to play with fire, habanero and serrano chiles can be added too, but consider wearing latex gloves while handling them. Instead of serving the peppers raw, Richard roasts them to bring out the flavor and soften the texture. Blackening the peppers can be done on the grill, under a broiler, or directly over the flame of a gas stove. As they cook, turn the peppers until the skin on all sides is burned. Tying the warm peppers up in a plastic bag will help loosen the skin and when they’re cool, run the peppers under water as you peel off the blackened exterior. The interior of the pepper will be soft and easy to slice and have a smoky flavor that is just right with the beef heart and a squirt of lemon or lime.
Beef heart is the largest heart you’ll see at the market, usually weighing 2-3 pounds. If you’re not quite ready to deal with a beef heart, chicken hearts are small and easy to cook; in the case of this recipe you could season and skewer a half-dozen and toss them with peppers for an equally delicious dish. Whichever you choose, this summer appetizer couldn’t be easier and although it’s a little adventurous, it’s well worth a try.
2-4 chili peppers for roasting
One beef heart
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper (or 2 tablespoons of your favorite seasoning rub)
Roast or grill chili peppers until skin is black, then remove the skin in a basin of water or under running water. Remove the stem (and seeds for less heat) and slice thinly.
Slice the beef heart in half lengthwise, which will reveal the white inner gristle and maybe even a valve. Remove both with a knife or kitchen scissors.
Rub the heart halves with the spices.
Over medium-high heat, grill the heart until the outside becomes crispy and the inside is still slightly pink.
Slice the beef heart into thin strips and mix with the peppers. Serve with lime or lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.