Introduction: Hearty Beef Heart Stew

The Heart contest inspired me to make Beef Heart Stew.

I made this hearty (ha!) stew, using a standard beef stew recipe but used cardiac muscle instead of skeletal muscle. The meat was very lean, but otherwise I didn’t notice a big difference in taste. All my testers agreed that it tasted like beef stew. I had told them it had a heart in it; otherwise, I don’t think they would have even noticed a taste difference.

When I first said I was planning to cook a beef heart, my family turned up their noses. My daughter said, “I’m not gonna eat it” and my son just said, “No, thanks.” My wife said, ‘Is that organ meat?” as if when I answered “yes” that would automatically disqualify it from ever gracing the table. But I told her the truth: “Yes, it’s an organ, but a muscle is also an organ, too, and we eat skeletal muscle all the time.”

[I teach anatomy and physiology, so I know the definition of an organ. An organ is an assemblage of several tissues that perform a particular function. Both the heart and any particular skeletal muscle contain muscle tissue, connective tissue like blood and fascia, and nervous tissue. So they are both organs. For example: Filet mignon is a cross-section through a muscle called the psoas major, which is an assemblage of tissues with a distinct function. A cow uses a psoas major to flex the joint at the hip, i.e. to move its back leg forward.]

My wife then asked, “Isn’t it like liver?” My answer: “No, it’s not at all like liver. The heart is mostly cardiac muscle, but much leaner than skeletal muscle. There’s not a lot of fat in it. They may be fat outside it, if you get hold of a heart from an older cow, but there’s not a lot of marbling in the muscle like there is in a skeletal muscle like a steak.”

“I still don’t think I’ll eat it,” she said. “I’d feel like a vampire eating an animal’s heart.” My reply: “Well, how do you feel when you eat an animal’s leg?”

Step 1: Get a Beef Heart

The hardest task was finding a heart. None of the chain grocery stores had them. But I have a friend who raises cattle and sells grassfed beef, and he had no problem providing one. (Thanks to Ellett Valley Beef Co. in Blacksburg, Virginia.)

I expected a whole heart just as it came out of the cow, but the one provided to me had been carefully butchered and dressed. The vessels had all been removed. That is, the pulmonary trunk artery and the aorta that carry blood away from the two ventricles were cut away. So were the big veins (anterior and posterior vena cava) that allow blood to drain into the right atrium. Those large vessels contain a lot of connective tissue and little muscle, so would be rather chewy even after cooking. The heart had also been cut half-way through the middle and the atrioventricular valves (also made of connective tissue) had also been removed.

Both atria had also been removed, so the 2 pounds of cardiac muscle I got was all from the two ventricles.

Khan Academy has a 10 minute video about heart anatomy called "Meet the Heart":

Step 2: Gather Ingredients

2 pounds dressed beef heart

Oil for searing and sautéing (1 tbsp. or so each time)

Salt and black pepper to your taste

2 medium onions, sliced, diced or pureed

3 celery stalks, whole (removed before plating)

12 oz. can of beef broth

3 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks

6 medium potatoes, scrubbed or peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks

2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

For a roux to thicken the gravy:

4 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons butter

Step 3: Directions

1. Cut vegetables as described in the 'Ingredients' section.

2. Sauté onion, garlic, celery, and carrots. They don’t have to be thoroughly done at this step, because they are going in the crock pot, but I like to saute’ them as this moves some of their flavors into the oil, which then gets distributed throughout the stew.

4. Salt and pepper to taste.

3. Put sautéed vegetables in crock pot.

4. Heat oil on a pan and put the heart into oil for searing both sides.

5. Place whole seared heart on top of vegetables and put in crockpot.

6. Pour beef broth into crockpot.

7. Cook in crockpot on high for about 4 to 5 hours, until meat is tender and vegetables soft.

7a. But after two hours take out heart and cube into pieces about 3/4 inch (2 cm) per side. Return cubed beef to crockpot. (I do that because it’s easier to handle and cube after it’s cooked a bit.)

8. To make a roux to thicken the gravy: melt 4 tbsp. butter in a small saucepan. Add 4 tsp. flour and blend. Stir, let it bubble, and stir for a few minutes. This cooking will get rid of the taste of raw flour.

9. Remove about a cup of the broth from the crockpot and add to the roux and stir. Once that’s thoroughly blended, add it to the crockpot and stir until the gravy is homogenously thickened.

Step 4: Hearty Goodness

From all the remarks I got from my family before I cooked this, I was pretty sure I was going to have to eat the whole pot by myself. But once I plated it, with the meat, carrots, potatoes, and onions swimming in the thick brown gravy, they ate it up and exclaimed about its goodness.

The meat tasted like the fine lean beef that it was and they no longer turned their noses up at this hearty stew.

Heart Contest

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