From My (beef) Heart to Yours: Hearty Stew

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To know the heart of a bovine is to know a love that keeps on giving. Whether slowly cooked in its own fat, or rubbed with herbs and gently braised in red wine and vegetables, it has a deep, intense beefy flavor that is sure to satiate your inner beast, while providing unconditional love, asking nothing of you in return (…because cows can’t talk, especially after you kill them and remove their vital organs… moving on…)

In addition to the aforementioned culinary commendations, heart– whether from a cow, pig, goat, etc.– receives plenty of nutritional bonus points for being the richest natural source of coenzyme-Q10, the ultra-potent antioxidant critical to heart health, as well as being high in protein, zinc, phosphorus, various B vitamins, etc. In other words, you’d be quite “heart-pressed” (groan…) to find a denser source of nutrition.

While the “ick factor” may invariably scare the majority of the population off of offal (my 14-year-old nephew enjoyed my pâté until I informed him the primary ingredient was liver… You should have seen the look on his face as he spat it out! Priceless!), don’t cheat yourself out of these extremely nutritious and economical cuts that are quite pleasing to the palate when properly prepared (yeesh… try that one 5 times fast…)

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Since heart is very dense with plenty of connective tissue and no marbling, it lends itself to low, slow methods like braising or confit (in fat). However, I’ve recently been making a lot of this beef heart stew with the aid of my new favorite method–the pressure cooker, which produces a tender, supremely flavorful product in a fraction of the time, so you can focus on important things like exercising, work, and posting stupid cat memes on facebook (yes, I saw it and, no, it wasn’t funny…)

This “hearty” stew can be broken down into 8 simple steps:

  1. Cut it and cook it. Cut the heart into large chunks (don’t worry about trimming the fat at this point), season liberally with salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme (I usually use these herbs dry for convenience’ sake, but fresh works great as well). Add heart to pressure cooker pot along with chopped onion, a few cloves of garlic, carrots, celery, fresh parsley, a few spoonfuls of tomato paste, and a few cups of dry red wine. In my particular pressure cooker, it takes about 30-35 minutes to bring to fork-tenderness.
  2. Cool it. Strain contents of the cooker using a colander. Park the drippings in the fridge for a few hours until a disk of solidified fat forms on top. Pry this off with a spoon and set aside.
  3. Trim it. Here’s the pain-in-the-ass bit… Take the cooled heart chunks, remove the cooked vegetables, and trim away the rubbery valve/arterial stuff and most of the remaining solid fat. Makes great dog treats. You can do this while working on the next step…
  4. Sautée vegetables. Remember that disk of red-gold, delicious fat we pulled off the drippings? Now it’s time to put it to use by adding some of it to a pan over medium heat and cooking the vegetables (I use red/yellow/orange bell peppers, onion, celery, carrot, tomato, and more fresh parsley and garlic).
  5. Deglaze. After the vegetables are cooked al dente, deglaze the pan with more red wine, and add a few more spoonfuls of tomato paste. For me, it’s hard to use too much of these two ingredients, as they provide such rich, intense flavor. Cook the wine down a bit over high heat for a few minutes, then…
  6. Add drippings and heart. Just throw everything else in, and cook down over medium-high heat until you’re left with a thick, rich sauce. Be sure to taste along the way, and adjust flavors to your preference. There are no rules here–just follow your heart (I swear that’s the last one!)
  7. Don’t forget the fat! Take about half (or more) of the remaining flavorful fat disk, and drop it right in the pot. Anything you reserve can be used to crank up the flavor of sautéed vegetables, eggs, liver, what-have-you to 11! This also makes the stew, which is actually quite lean at this point, ketogenic, which is something I always remain conscious of.
  8. Eat it! Here is where the work finally pays off! You really can’t go wrong here. Goes great with eggs, whether scrambled or sunny-side-up, or simply unadorned in a bowl. If you’re not anti-carb like myself, I reckon it would go great with potatoes or steamed rice as well… just know that I’ll be silently judging you. Adding a liberal shaving of cheddar and a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche (preferably grass-fed, not just because you’re a food snob, but for your health! [proper ratio of omega 3:6]) provides a high that should be illegal. Incidentally, if you’re still of the misinformed opinion that offal is awful, this same protocol may of course be used for more conventional cuts of meat (fatty spare ribs make an even more melt-in-your-mouth product, for what it’s worth…) Just use your imagination, and let your gut be your guide!

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Bon appétit et bonne santé (good appetite, and good health)!

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