In the depths of winter, February is a time when thoughts turn to 'hearty' soups and stews. It is also when we celebrate St Valentines's Day with 'hearts', so this February why not have a heart.
Well the heart of an ox, pig, duck, veal, chicken or even a lamb to be exact. This underrated and extremely cheap meat is just $6.00 for a large slab of beef heart that will feed four. It has dense flesh that is due to the constant pumping of blood and it does contain many tough membranes and ventricles that need to be removed before cooking. But it can be a very tender meat that has a delicate but deep flavor reminiscent of the animal that it belonged to
The heart needs to be washed in cold water before removing blood vessels and connective tissue but the fat can remain in place, to help keep it moist during cooking. This meat needs to be cooked very quickly and served medium rare or alternatively subjected to a long slow cooking process. Stuffed beef heart is a popular dish as the chambers inside the heart are empty spaces just waiting to be filled. Ensure that the stuffing contains fats that will baste the heart from the inside, then after three hours cooking in stock a magnificent meaty meal will appear.
The Scottish haggis dish contains heart and the Swedish have a similar dish called polsa made with heart, rolled barley and spices. In Germany and Eastern Europe they make a paprikash with hearts, livers and tongues of lambs and pigs flavored with smoked and sweet paprika, purists insist that no tomato be added but many people prefer the dish when they are. Iranians and Peruvians both like to spear either chunks or whole chicken hearts onto skewers and broil them. The Peruvians first marinade the meat overnight in red wine vinegar, garlic and hot chili peppers and call them anticuchos.
In the dim and distant past, people believed that eating heart would give them strength and courage and today we know that it is a good source of protein. Heart is also rich in vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and iron which is good for red blood cells that helps to produce anti bodies. The only drawback seems to be that, as with all offal, it is high in cholesterol. But additionally, which may be of particular interest to people with a vain streak, heart contains amino acids that not only improve metabolism but also promote the production of collagen and elastin. So contributing to reducing wrinkles and keeping slim, then perhaps the squeamish that refuse to try this meat will have a change of heart.
Photos courtesy of flickr - midtownlunch, sifurenka, kirstenwtrs, av1xyz