I had some sort of idea, some sort of time ago, that I’d like to start a series of posts with the theme of demystifying offal. In fact, I may not be the right guy for the job. I am lazy, fickle in my appreciation for the stuff, and my lack of pedagogical zeal fatally undercuts whatever culinary aptitude I might have in the first place. I am almost pathologically incapable of following instructions, and similarly disinclined to issue them with anything approaching the rigour necessary for them to be of any use at all to the type of person who follows instructions. Moreover, infected as we are with the intermingling spirits of artisanal vertically-integrated capitalism, nose-to-tail butchery, the fetishization of craft, etc. etc., there are probably more middle class white twenty- and thirty-somethings experimenting with organ meat these days than ever before. Google it. I just did and almost stopped writing this right now.
And yet I persist. There are certainly people better-equipped than myself (see above Googling. Probably literally anyone) to guide one on so gruesome a journey, and it is to them you should turn with your practical questions. But it occurs to me that this is more about taking up a thread, following a trail (of blooooooooooooooood, obvs) back into the interiority of the edible, and sometimes for some people, inedible, body – food as organ, organism, animal – that in exploded view displays a striking semiotic and emotional fecundity. Heads and hearts. Hearts and bones. Blood and guts. All of which, with their histories of uneven resistance to domestication, threatening to re-anatomize the body by dispelling the fantasy of the food animal as just a bunch of steaks taped together.
So, on the one hand this is for the fickle and lazy who just need a little kick in the ass more than they need hand-holding. Like, “Hey, eat a gross face, it’s not so hard!” Or, for example, say I, go buy some hearts, because they are cheap and flavourful and not very weird. Start with chicken hearts, maybe, because they are just wee. You barely have to clean them. Just hack them up and huck them in a ragu, or marinate ’em and put ’em on a skewer (my favourite brewery in Toronto does grilled duck hearts with burnt jalapeño oil and it is awesome).
Or try lamb hearts, because they are far less daunting than beef hearts, which while still fairly cheap are often closer to face size. If you live near a halal or an Asian market with a butcher, they are bound to have these (or chicken hearts) on hand, and they will likely be reasonably fresh. You’ll want to slice them open and trim the fat cap and all the little bits of cardiac machinery (this will be a quick and relatively simple process with lamb hearts, which are about the size of smallish beets; but it gets pretty interesting when you’re dealing with a cow heart the size and heft of a child’s baseball glove) – the valves, aorta, connective tissue, and gristly collagenous bits like the chordae tendinae, which are literally (and I suppose figuratively) the heart strings. You may also have to give it a rinse in case there are any blood clots lying around (there will be), which is, in its own way, pretty cool.
After this point, you can really do whatever you want with the stuff. For a first attempt with lamb, I suggest cooking it like a steak, fairly rare so it doesn’t get tough. It is a well-worked muscle but the heart has a sheerness, a smoothness, that reminds one that it isn’t just a steak or any other muscle. There is also a slight gamey quality (all but absent in chicken hearts) although it is well short of the peculiarity of even more familiar organ meats such as kidneys or liver.
On the other hand, I am very into complicating matters as much as possible. It is also about disgust. And horror. And not necessarily about getting over one’s disgust and horror. So rest assured I won’t always make it this easy. It probably shouldn’t be.