Once coveted as a delicacy, heart from an actual animal is now considered strange to some consumers— a piece of forbidden, alien meat we glance over in the frozen section, with ice crystals from the deep freeze re-enforcing our notion that no, no one eats that, and neither will I: Where are the steaks, tenders, and chops again?
When I was growing up, I was squeamish about eating heart, along with most other organ meats. But when I started cooking, I gradually came to appreciate both the ethical and practical value of eating the whole animal. I also began exploring the culinary potential of less popular bits, including heart. And, with experience, I grew to love and respect this meat’s unique properties.
We all want to share our passions and strongly held beliefs with others. And “eat the whole animal” is a tenet I believe in fiercely. But what I learned from experience is what most seasoned chefs already know: Heart is a very hard restaurant sell. And in a restaurant setting, the inability to sell heart can quickly translate into a lack of desire to cook it. This is true for home cooks, too, of course. Even the most inspired drive to creatively elevate and celebrate offal will quickly fizzle if there’s nobody to appreciate the results. To see beautiful hearts carefully prepped and served only to be pushed around a plate and later tossed in the trash is, well, heart-breaking.
Happily, there‘s one way to cook heart that’ll win over just about anyone: corning. Corning has a transformative effect on both the flavors and textures that are so often presented as organ-meat deal-breakers. After meat sits in a brine for a while and then gets thoroughly cooked, there’s a safe and comforting homogeneity to it. Everything gets soft, tender, and seasoned to a slightly salty perfection. So here, I’m going to give you my recipe for corned lamb or goat hearts. This method of corning is a great way to bring out the best not just in hearts, but in all sorts of other organ and muscle meats.
Amy Theilen uses corning to make bear-meat pastrami in Northern Minnesota, and my friend Hank Shaw uses the process for venison (as well just about as anything that flies). The possibilities are limitless. So, what do you make out of the corned heart you prepare? Since the meat has already been cooked, and the heart is lean, you don’t want to apply too much direct heat (so no grilling), but slicing and gently warming corned heart in a pan is great.
I love to make warm Rueben sandwiches out of corned heart. Here’s a simple recipe and video describing my process. This process will work with hearts from larger animals like pork and beef but will take longer to cure.
This recipe is by chef Alan Bergo. A chef from Minnesota, Alan is a 15 year veteran of the culinary industry, former executive chef of Acclaimed Lucia’s Restaurant, and the Salt Cellar. Founder of the website Forager Chef, he’s best known as a respected authority on Midwestern foraging. Learn more about Alan and his hunt for mushrooms, wild and obscure foods at Forager Chef.
4 Lamb Hearts, roughly 1-1.5 lbs
Yield enough to serve 3-4 people for lunch or as a light entrée
2 qts water
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup kosher salt
5 teaspoons pink salt
1 tablspoon chopped garlic
1 heaping tablespoons pickling spices
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
1 each, medium carrot, medium yellow onion, 1 rib of celery
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
1 heaping tablespoon pickling spices
- Toast the pickling spices, then combine with the remaining brine ingredients and bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool the brine to room temperature and reserve.
- Make a cut down one side of each heart so they can be opened up like a book, many hearts will already come packed like this.
- Put the hearts in the cooled brine, cover the container with plastic, or another weight to keep the hearts under the liquid as much as possible. Date the container, then refrigerate for 4 days, stirring once a day, or as often as you can remember.
- After four days, remove the hearts from the brine and put into a pot with the 4 cups of water, the remaining heaping tablespoon of toasted pickling spice, the chopped carrot, onion and celery and ginger. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer in a covered pan and cook for 2 hours or until the hearts are tender.
- Allow the hearts to cool in their liquid until you can handle them, then remove and trim off some the fat, as well as removing the large central vein.
- For storage, strain the liquid and keep the hearts in their cooking liquid so they don’t dry out. The hearts will keep in their liquid for 5 days, they can also be wrapped tightly in plastic, labeled, dated and frozen for 3 months.
- Deep braising pan, dutch oven or casserole, capable of holding 1 gallon of liquid
- plastic container for refrigerating the hearts, capable of holding 1 gallon of liquid
- plastic bag, plate or other weight for weighing down the hearts in the brine
Preparing the Reuben Sandwich
Video by Repast Studios