Eating animal hearts are not something we Westerners do much of nowadays.
Yet, there was a time when organ meats — called variety meats or offal, collectively — provided basic nutrients and protein for the poor and working classes. The offal tradition has been revived in Britain over the past few years, thanks to traditional cookery shows on television; our butcher has been surprised by his customers’ increasing requests for hearts, liver and kidneys.
You can prepare heart in one of two ways. You can boil it to death or you can stir-fry it. Those who favour low and slow cooking need to be adept at getting heart just right, because it can turn out tough and muscular. Another downside is that this type of cooking uses a lot of gas or electric, highly expensive these days.
On the other hand, stir-frying heart presents a quick, healthful, tender — and surprisingly tasty — alternative at a low price. Our household prefers it to stir-fried steak because it almost melts in the mouth, whereas beef quality can be variable — and the meat overpriced.
(Graphics credit: Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod.)
1/ Lamb’s hearts come in packs of three in the UK, total cost £1.80. Three hearts will feed two people. They can stretch to four if you purchase eight chipolatas (small pork links — ‘porkies’ to North Americans).
3/ Eating heart can help as part of a diet plan; it has 122 calories per 100g (3.5 oz.).
Stir-fried lamb’s hearts
(prep time: 15 minutes; cooking time: 15 minutes with 3-4 minutes for the heart; see note 1 above for servings)
3 lamb’s hearts
2 – 3 tbsp butter
1 large onion, roughly chopped or cut in thin quartered slices
3 – 4 cloves of crushed garlic
4 – 6 medium sized mushrooms sliced or cut in quarters (optional)
1/2 red or green bell pepper, quartered and sliced (optional)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp of thyme or chopped parsley leaves
Extra chopped parsley for garnish
1/ Begin by melting half the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. While the butter melts, slice or chop the onion and other vegetables. Also have the garlic ready.
2/ Put the onion pieces into the skillet with the thyme or parsley, being careful to avoid splashing the hot butter.
Note: Always put ingredients into hot fat away from you. Don’t have your hands too high over the pan when you add ingredients to it, as this can also cause hot fat to splash on you or others.
3/ Salt the onion to help it cook quicker and release its natural sugars. However, do not colour the onion; cook until translucent.
4/ Add a twist or two of ground pepper and the garlic to the pan. Stir well.
5/ If you have prepared the peppers and mushrooms, add them now. Stir well and cover so that they cook quicker. You might need to reduce the heat to medium-low. When the vegetables are done, remove the skillet from the heat. You might want to put the vegetables on a separate plate.
Note: Letting the vegetables rest will help develop their flavour.
6/ Now prepare the hearts. With a sharp knife, remove the outer fat, sinew and paper-thin membrane from one heart. Discard these parts.
7/ Starting from the outside of the heart, begin thinly slicing the heart into 1″ – 2″ (2 – 4 cm) long pieces.
8/ As you cut around the outside, you will find that your slicing opens the heart up at some point. Look at the interior and cut out the ventricle (tube). You will also need to remove the mesh-like sinew which covers half the heart’s interior. Gently cut it away from the meat. Discard both the ventricle and the mesh.
9/ Continue slicing. Once you are finished with the first heart, put the small pile of meat to one side on a plate or your cutting board.
10/ Repeat steps 6-9 for the other two hearts.
11/ Clear a space on your cutting board or use a clean plate for this step. Place the salt, garlic salt, pepper and cayenne pepper on this area, mix lightly with a spoon or a clean finger and place the heart slices in it. Add more seasoning, if necessary. Toss the heart slices gently and evenly in this seasoning mix. Leave the heart pieces to rest in the seasoning for 10 to 15 minutes.
12/ Reheat the skillet, adding the other half of the butter. Begin reheating your Romesco-style sauce. You should also finish or reheat your rice or potatoes at this point.
13/ With the skillet now hot, carefully place the heart pieces in the melted, sizzling butter. Separate the pieces as best you can so that they cook evenly. Turn after one or two minutes.
14/ Once you have turned the heart pieces over, give them another two minutes of cooking time and add your previously cooked vegetables. Stir thoroughly.
Note: Heart is most tender when medium rare.
15/ Serve with the rice or potatoes, putting two to three tablespoons of Romesco-style sauce and a sprinkling of chopped parsley over each portion of meat.