Treat your sweetheart this Valentine's Day to...well.. a heart!
Don't go. Give it a chance! Did I mention it's slow cooked in fat?
Offal ain't awful, and I'm here to show you the way with this amazingly beefy, lean, and oft overlooked cut of meat. Beef heart confit is the name of this game, and once your slow-cooking is done, you'll be left with an incredibly velvety cut of beef you'd be hard pressed to identify as the hard working machine that keeps our cows mooing. Take a look inside.
Step 1: What You'll Need
You'll need to branch out from your neighborhood grocery store to find a beef heart, sadly enough. Butchers, meat markets, and specialty delis that carry offal will all be your best bet to getting your hands on one of these, or ordering one through their suppliers. Hearts are large, but relatively inexpensive, with mine clocking in at $1.99/lb and ~5lb, frozen and vacuum packed. They should always be pre-cut following their USDA inspections, with the major vessels removed.
- Sharp, maneuverable knife (you'll almost be filleting the connective tissue off the heart at times)
- Cutting Board
- Slow Cooker
- Olive Oil (enough to submerge your meat)
- Black Peppercorns
- Any other aromatics you so choose
Step 2: Achey Breaky Heart
Time to tear this cow's heart to pieces. You heart-breaker you.
Open the heart up, and observe where it was opened up for inspection. You'll want to follow the rough guidelines of the USDA cuts in order to split your heart into more manageable slices of equal thickness.
You'll see right away what you'll want to cut away on the inside of the heart. The meat has a rich, red color typical of any beef cut, and the tendons and inner connective tissue that make up the inside surface of the heart aren't palatable texture-wise, and need to be cut away. Time to flex your knife skills.
Using a sharp knife, get as close to the surface between the connective tissue and the muscle and "filet" your heart. My knife wasn't as sharp, so if that's the case you may lose a little bit of meat as you cut away what you can.
- Now that you've cleaned all the inside of your heart, you'll want to do the same on the outside, trimming away any fat and connective tissue. Now, if you'd like, you can conserve this tallow and do whatever you'd like with it (the whole philosophy of discovering organ meats again is to conserve waste). It's not strictly necessary for a confit, since there's plenty of fat available in the cooking process itself.
At the end of your butchery, you'll have some absolutely stunning heart steaks at your disposal. This recipe covers only a confit, but feel free to quickly fry up a piece and give it a taste. The barrier to organ meats in this instance is purely visual, as well as the slight bit of work it takes to obtain and prepare (from start to crockpot took me roughly 25 minutes, but you can do far better with a sharp knife and some knife skills). The heart is a powerful, lean muscle, and tastes like an amazing, middle of the road toughness cut of beef. You'd never even know it was from an organ traditionally looked down upon by the common palate. I for one, am excited to try this new found cut in other exciting ways.
Here is a video of the heart break-down process, from a master.
Time to give this heart a nice, relaxing night at the slowcooker spa.
Step 3: Confit Time
Confit is one of the oldest ways to preserve food. Originally, meat was brined (either dry or wet) in a strong salt solution with herbs and spices in order to kill off bacteria, tenderize, and infuse flavors. The meat was submerged (oftentimes in it's own animal fat) and cooked slowly at a low heat. The submerged protein and cooking fat were then cooled, and stored in a cool, dry place.
The layer of fat atop your protein acts as a barrier keeping out water, air, and bacteria, and preserves your protein for months at a time as the muscle fibers and connective tissue continue to break down in a near sterile environment. You can still find directions and recipes for doing this at home, and it results in an absolutely amazing meal. My usage of the term confit is a bit more on the modern side, though it retains the same basic idea.
Think of a modern confit as the low and slow counterpart to deep frying. Both methods completely submerge your food in heated oil, fat, or lard. The difference is the temperature, and how that energy transfer changes your food.
Deep frying temperatures result in your food quickly dehydrating, releasing steam and undergoing the Maillard reaction (that crispy brown surface we all crave). Your food is cooked quickly all the way through, with a crunchy outer layer.
A confit is the tortoise to the deep fryer hare. Traditionally, the fat and meat are placed in an oven no more than 275 ºF or so (a fat temperature of 200 ºF ) and cooked up to 12 hours. This allows the connective tissue to break down, but prevents any water from evaporating. What you lose in crisp outside, you gain in tender and moist inside.
I managed the same delicious results using a crock pot and monitoring the temperature of the oil via the settings. Give your owner's manual a quick check, but the low setting will usually do the trick. Let that baby bubble about for at least 8 hours, depending on crock temperature, up to 12. Make sure your meat is completely submerged, and use any aromatics you wish.
Step 4: Slice and Serve
Now that your heart is done cooking, all you need to do is fish it out of the oil with some tongs and pat dry. Immediately slice thin and serve anyway you'd like. I decided to whip up some blood orange slices as an ironic garnish. My slices here are a little bit overcooked, but as long as you keep the temperature of the oil at a steady 200 ºF your heart will just melt.
Enjoy, and let me know how it turns out!