For years I've flipped through an old Irish cookbook in my kitchen and smiled at a recipe for beef heart called Love in Disguise: You cut the heart open, strip the insides, stuff it, roast it and carve it at the table. If you've ever had a truly rough breakup, you might wonder at the word "disguise."
As much as I heart heart, and offal in general — from tripe to sweetbreads to the chewy gizzards tucked inside a roasting chicken — and as much as I enjoy imagining myself as Snow White's evil-fabulous stepmother, I've never made that recipe. The great mass of smooth, lean muscle that is a beef heart, with its deep, blood-rich, gamey flavor and firm texture, has always seemed to me best in morsels. In my family, long before the gentrification of nose-to-tail cuisine, we ate it thinly sliced and pan fried with soy sauce and green onions, letting its thick gravy soak into hot rice. It was a treat that I now realize was on offer because we were broke.
As an adult, I didn't return to heart until I lived alone with no roommates to horrify when it showed up on a shelf in the fridge on a foam tray pooling with dark blood like a spill of Burgundy. And yeah, OK, I was broke again. Unlike so many other cuts, it has yet to take over high-end menus so you can still grab a bargain (around $2.50 will get you a whole one) and the brass hipster ring of saying you were eating it before it was cool. It does take a little more prep than a boneless, skinless chicken breast but that comes with more flavor and the payoff of knowing and appreciating what you're eating. There, spread out on the cutting board before you, are the left and right ventricles you may not have seen since high school biology, the pale, tough chordae tendinae to be snipped away — all the involuntary cardiac muscle it takes to pump life through a 1,000 to 2,000-pound animal that you are going to waste just a little less of.
Beef heart, along with being cheap and pleasing the ghosts of your waste-not-want-not ancestors, is wonderful in place of flank steak in a stir fry or marinated and grilled. And if, on the cusp of Valentine's Day, you're looking for a strong metaphor, it's tough to beat. May I suggest heart cut to ribbons, skewered and lightly charred? Call it Love Undisguised.
Love Undisguised or Skewered Heart
These are best cooked on an outdoor grill but can be done in a broiler under a watchful eye and with the oven door propped open a couple of inches. Serves 4.
1 beef heart
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2-3 bunches green onions
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Cover 10-12 bamboo skewers in water and set aside.
To prepare the heart, first rinse it with cold water inside and out, then pat it very dry. If you're buying it from a butcher, the insides will be mostly cleaned out but you'll still need to trim away any stringy bits and the membrane. With a sharp knife, make a small cut in the surface and pull the membrane away and off. Don't go crazy. A little membrane won't kill you, just remind you you're eating organ meat. Turn the meat over and trim away the patches of fat from the outside, renewing your vow to exercise more and cut back on the doughnuts. Using the same method as on the interior of the heart, cut and peel away most of the outer membrane. Slice the meat into long, thin strips and set aside.
Clean, trim and chop 3 green onions. In a glass bowl, mix the soy sauce, mirin, sake, sesame oil, chopped green onions, garlic and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Add the meat, turning it until it's coated in the marinade and place it covered in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
Trim the remaining green onions and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Skewer the strips of meat in a zig-zag around the green onions. Heat up the grill and place the skewers over a medium flame for 4 minutes per side. (If you are skipping the green onions, reduce the time to 3 minutes per side.) Serve as an appetizer or over rice.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or Jennifer@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.