Monthly Archives: April 2013

Have a Heart?

I am aiming to write at least one recipe on every cut of meat, cheap or expensive, regular or odd (see here for the main post). At Levenshulme Market a few months ago, I came across a calf’s heart at the dairy farm Wintertarn’s stall, so I bought it and stole it away in my freezer until I found a recipe I wanted to try.

Heart crops up in many recipes such as pork faggots or haggis, but these days is rarely eaten as a cut of meat in its own right. In the war-time home stuffed pig’s or lamb’s hearts were pretty popular because offal cuts were not rationed. This naturally has damaged the reputation of the heart as something that is good eating. Prior to the 20th century, heart was a very popular cut of meat, even with the middle and upper classes. I like this recipe that appears in Elizabeth Raffald’s book The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) ‘To make a Mock Hare of a Beast’s Heart’:

Wash a large beast’s heart clean and cut off the deaf ears [see below], and stuff it with forcemeat…Lay a caul of veal…over the top to keep in the stuffing. Roast it either in a cradle spit or hanging one, it will take an hour and a half before a good fire; baste it with red wine. When roasted take the wine out of the dripping pan and skim off the fat and add a glass more of wine. When it is hot put in some lumps of redcurrant jelly and pour it in the dish. Serve it up and send in redcurrant jelly cut in slices on a saucer.

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Elizabeth Raffald

I think this sounds like a delicious recipe to try, and perhaps I will when I come across a large beast’s heart in the butcher’s shop window. However, it might be a little bit of a challenge for someone not used to eating such things. Instead, I give a recipe for a delicious and simple marinated calf’s heart, as a good introduction to the texture of heart which is not as tough as old boots as you may first expect, but firm and has the familiar taste of meat.  However, before you cook a heart, you need to know how to get it ready.

Preparing Heart

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The hearts of small animals such as ducks and chickens can simply have any large blood vessels removed and you are done.

Preparing a larger heart such as calf, ox, lamb or pig might appear to be a little daunting at first, but it is really quite simple. First of all the large blood vessels as well as the two large flaps that used to be known as ‘deaf ears’ are trimmed away from the top of the heart as well as any obviously sinewy parts. This should leave the heart looking neat with two cavities within. If you want, trim away the fat, but if it is to be roasted, the fat provides a natural basting. In fact, there is so little fat within the heart itself that often it needs to be larded with strips of fatty bacon. Large ox hearts are often quartered and frozen away to be used over several meals.

Pop the heart in some salted water until you are going to cook it.

Grilled & Marinated Calf’s Heart

This recipe is a modern one and it comes from the Nose-to-Tail chef Fergus Henderson. It is very simple and very healthy – pieces of calf’s heart that have been marinated in Balsamic vinegar, quickly griddled then served up with a nice salad.

For four

Ingredients

1 calf’s heart

around 6 tbs Balsamic vinegar

salt

pepper

1 tbs chopped fresh thyme

First of all prepare the heart: trim it as explained above and remove any thicker pieces of fat. In this case, the heart is cooked quickly, so it doesn’t require the fatty basting. Cut it open and lay it out flat and cut into 2 or 3 centimetre (1 inch) squares.

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You need each piece of meat to be about half a centimetre (¼ of an inch) thick, so some very thick parts, such as the ventricles, will need to be sliced horizontally. Tumble the pieces of heart into a bowl along with the vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme, making sure everything gets coated well. Cover and marinate for 24 hours.

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To cook the meat, you need a red-hot griddle – either on a barbeque or over a hob – that has been lightly greased with some rapeseed oil. Place pieces of heart on the griddle and turn after 2 or 3 minutes and cook the same time on the other side.

Serve straight-away with ‘a spirited salad of your choice’, says Mr Henderson, ‘e.g. waterctress, shallot and bean, or raw leek.’

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Sweetbreads

One of my irregular offal-themed posts (see main post Tail to Nose Eating):
For those that are not aware, sweetbreads are a type of offal and come from the thyroid gland, situated around the throat, of either calves or lambs. For this reason they are often called throat sweetbreads. The thyroid gland, or thymus, produces the hormone thyroxin which is involved in the proper regulation of metabolism. Hyperthyroidism is a common disease where the sufferer produces too much of it, causing very high metabolism and, as a consequence, is rather skinny. I had a cat with it once. The pancreas is commonly sold as heart or stomach sweetbreads, there are other rarely used sweetbreads too such as tongue and cheek sweetbreads. Most people think that sweetbreads are the testicles of calves and lambs; in fact, very rarely are testicles sold under the name of sweetbreads, they are more commonly sold as fries or stones.

Don’t be put off by the thought of eating a gland – they taste light, with a suspicion of iodine and do not have a strong offal flavour. If you are new to offal, or fear it a little, sweetbreads are a good place to start I reckon. But why are they called sweetbreads? Well, they are sweet because they taste richer and sweeter compared to typical meat, and they are bread because the old English word for flesh is bræd.

Sweetbreads were once very, very popular, but have now died a comparative death. Though, like many of the old forgotten cuts of meat, there is a slight resurgence, but nowhere near the dizzy heights of the 18th and 19th centuries. Almost every meat dish seems to have been decked out with breaded sweetbread garnishes. In those days; they were cheap and they were plentiful and they were delicious. Sweetbreads are not the easiest of cuts to get hold of these days, with most of them being snapped up by restaurants, and the few that get to your butcher are snaffled very quickly by those in the know. This, in some ways, in a good thing – they become, not a mere garnish, but the star of the show, something to be savoured. In Jane Grigson’s book Good Things, they have a whole chapter to themselves!

Sweetbreads are best served simply: grilled or fried alongside some dry-cured streaky bacon. Sweetbreads love bacon. They also love black pudding and sweet vegetables such as beans and peas.

I got lambs’ sweetbreads from my butcher WH Frost in Chorlton. For some bonkers reason we can’t sell British calves’ sweetbreads in this country, but we can sell those that have come from mainland Europe.

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Lamb’s sweetbreads in their raw state

Preparation of sweetbreads

Whether you get calves’ or lambs’ sweetbreads they first need to be soaked in salted water for a few hours. This gets rid of any impurities. If you can, change the water a couple of times, but it is no big deal if you do not.

 

Next, the sweetbreads are poached. This can be in simple salted water, but more normal is a light stock such as chicken or vegetable or in a court bouillon of herbs and vegetables.

Simply pop your sweetbreads into the water or stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for five minutes. Remove, drain and cool before removing any gristly bits. The tricky part is doing this whilst keeping them whole.

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Fried Sweetbreads with Peas and Broad Beans

This recipe is great if you’ve never cooked with sweetbreads before – they are sliced up, so if they do fall apart when preparing them, it doesn’t matter. This recipe is also a very quick dinner – taking only 10 minutes or so to cook. I don’t think it needs to be served with anything, except perhaps a slice of wholemeal bread and butter. By the way, there is nothing wrong with using frozen peas and beans here. This recipe is adapted from The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and it serves four people.

Ingredients

around 150g (6 oz) garden peas, fresh or frozen

around 150g (6 oz) broad beans, fresh or frozen

3 tbs olive oil

100g (4 oz) dry-cured smoked streaky bacon, cubed

500g (1 lb) prepared lamb’s or calf’s sweetbreads, sliced

plain flour seasoned extremely well-seasoned with salt, pepper and a little Cayenne pepper

1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

salt and pepper

Plunge the beans and peas into boiling water for one minute, then drain and tip into cold water. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the bacon begins to crisp.

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Meanwhile, toss the sweetbreads in the seasoned flour and tip them into the pan along with the bacon. A minute later, add the garlic and fry everything a nice golden brown. Tip away any excess oil and stir in the beans and peas. Cook for another minute, season with salt and pepper and serve piping hot.

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