Have A Heart: How This Organ Meat Is Eaten Around The World

heartAmericans are frequently credited with having a lot of heart, but when it comes to eating them, we’re not so hip on the idea. Even though offal, or “nose-to-tail” eating has been on-trend for some years now, a lot of people still flinch at the idea of dining on animal heart.

The reality is, heart is a delicious, healthy, versatile meat, devoid of the strong flavor possessed by most (improperly prepared) organ meats. My chef friend Ryan Hardy says, “The heart is a muscle, just like loin or shoulder.” A former farmer who makes his own charcuterie, Ryan’s made a name for himself with dishes like veal heart scallopine, and other rustic, meaty treats.

The rest of the world uses the hearts of all sorts of critters, from frog to horse, in a variety of ways. In honor of our own heart-centric holiday (that’s Valentine’s, y’all), I’ve provided a list of the most well known dishes, along with some modern interpretations of classic recipes, by some of the nation’s most acclaimed chefs.

Anticuchos
One of the tastiest/least frightening of heart dishes are these skewered and grilled chunks of beef heart from Peru. Although anticuchos can be made with the hearts of other species, corazon de vaca is the most popular, and sold by street food vendors across the country, and in other parts of South America.

Cobra heart
We’ve all seen it on the Travel Channel, whether it’s “No Reservations,” “Bizarre Foods,” or some other show. Or perhaps you’ve experienced it for yourself: the old, snake-heart-in-a-shot-of-firewater, or swallowing the still-beating-cobra or frog heart. It’s what men in parts of Asia use in place of Viagra, and frankly, I’d take impotence, any day. For anyone who’s ever stared into a bottle of rice whisky, cloudy with flecks of tissue, and observed a bobbing gray blob of reptile or amphibian heart, you know what I’m talking about.haggis
Haggis
The beloved national dish of Scotland consists of a sheep’s stomach stuffed with a highly-seasoned mixture of the animal’s lungs, heart and liver, mixed with oatmeal. If that doesn’t tempt you, perhaps the cooking technique will. Boiling is nothing if not sexy.

Giblets
Originally, this term referred to a stew of game birds, and dates back to the 16th century. Today, it refers to the edible organs – usually heart, liver, and gizzard – of poultry, which are used for making gravy. Tip: Caramelize these suckers before attempting to make stock and/or ragù from them; it makes all the difference in depth of flavor in the final dish. Serve atop fresh pappardelle pasta, and you have a dish that says, “I love you.”

Coer de Veau Farci
This classic French dish from centuries past consists of veal heart stuffed with forcemeat (often mushrooms) and wrapped in caul fat, before being cooked in the oven. It’s served with a reduction of the pan juices and white wine enriched with butter. According to “Larousse Gastronomique,” the French bible on all things culinary, “Pig or sheep hearts are used to make a ragout or a civet [a game stew thickened with blood].”

In the contemporary world, heart is growing more mainstream thanks to the work of chefs and food personalities. For example, last June, I attended a cooking demo by Andrew Zimmern at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen. The theme was “Game On!” and Zimmern prepared a handful of dishes utilizing oft-unloved animal parts. He converted the dubious, especially with his grilled venison hearts with arugula, sauce Gribiche and shallot rings

Another acquaintance of mine, Jonathon Sawyer, chef/owner of Cleveland’s acclaimed The Greenhouse Tavern, is serving up confit beef heart paprikash (with bacon, onion, smoked paprika, steamed potatoes and spaetzel) as part of this year’s Valentine’s Day Menu. I asked Jonathon what had inspired this untraditional take on paprikash, which usually calls for chicken meat (heart-free).

He told me, “It was partly inspired by my travels in Europe. When cooking things like offal at the restaurant, we like to use familiar flavors that encourage our guests to give it a try. To me, nothing is more comforting than a big bowl of Hungarian paprikash just like Grandma Szegedi used to make.”

That, my friends, is love.

[Photo credits: heart, Flickr user Baie.; haggis, Flickr user CasadeQueso]

Amazing Race 13 recap 8: Kazakhstan makes Bizarre Foods look tame

India was easy compared to Kazakhstan–sort of. This week’s Amazing Race 13 was a glance into some of the more unusual aspects of Kazakh culture. As teams sped through the streets of Almaty, even though much of the city looked western and urban with architecture that reflects its former Soviet Union ties, the teams experienced more of Kazakhstan’s agricultural tradition than perhaps is apparent in Almaty daily life.

I’m not sure how much more I learned about Kazakhstan, but I do know what not to order in a restaurant. Plus, Borat made this country famous, something the teams referred to when they found out this is where they were heading.

Travel Tips:

  • If you’re a vegetarian don’t attempt to eat the rear end of a sheep
  • If you make a mistake, the quicker you admit it, the faster you can make up time
  • If you ask people directly for help, you’ll have much better luck than just randomly shouting out, “Can someone give us directions?”

Cultural traditions and Recap: If you find yourself in Delhi and want to head to Kazakhstan, there are three options: through Frankfurt; through Dubai; and through Moscow. In the Amazing Race, it doesn’t matter which flight you are on because when your team shows up to the Alel Agro Chicken Factory in the middle of the night, you’ll have to hang out until 7:30 a.m. when it opens. That means the team that went through Dubai (Andrew & Dan) had time to get there by the time the gate opened. As a bonus, the sunrise over a chicken farm was lovely.

Once the gate opened, the first task of the day was the mad dash to the clue box. Nick, in true competitive spirit, snatched a clue right out of Andrew’s hand, thus propelling Nick & Starr towards the Fast Forward with Terrence & Sarah close behind.

While these two teams tried to down soup made from the butt end of a sheep as belly dancers danced, the other teams donned white jumpsuits, masks, shoe coverings and gloves in order to find one of seven golden eggs among the 30,000 chickens that were milling about the chicken shack.

As the chickens clucked and pecked, one person from each team cajoled the chickens to move in order to find one of the prized eggs. As the team members searched, the other team members clutched their masks to their faces and shouted encouragement. Although I wondered about the stench, I’d rather have done this then the Fast Forward.

Downing the soup was a dreadful process that probably Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods would have had trouble with. Both Nick and Starr tried not to barf with each bite while Terrence tried not to barf as soon as he eyed the guy eating the sheep’s head. Terrence, a vegetarian hadn’t eaten meat for 15 years.

Sarah gamely scarfed her gross looking soup down, but it was too much for Terrence. Why they didn’t give up sooner? I have no idea. Instead, they watched Nick and Starr almost make it to the last bite before they headed back to the chicken factory to look for their golden egg. I was curious about what else the restaurant served. Here’s a link to other food descriptions that sound much better, except I would not want to eat sheep’s head.

As soon as each team found their golden egg, they hopped into a giant crane truck with a driver who was to take them through the city to Koktobe Arch at the foothills of the Tienshan Mountains.

Dallas & Toni were off to the foothills first, while Dan & Andrew had the worst luck–again. Their driver had no idea where to go, and in their resulting miffed state, the guys had a hard time attracting positive energy and someone to give them directions. Instead they thought that the Kazakhs were the “worst people,” even though people in this country have a reputation for their great hospitality.

Toni and Dallas made it up the mountain first. There they were met by Mongol warriors dressed in traditional warrior attire riding on horseback. One of the warriors was a falconer who waited with them for a falcon to sweep in with the next clue held in its claws. That was cool. And, there was a brief glimpse of the beauty of the surrounding mountains. No time to linger, though.

Once teams got their next clue from the falcon, it was off to either dress up in a two person cow suit to find a glass of milk while walking through Almaty mooing at people, or to learn how to play a simple tune on two Kazakh instruments. Each team picked dressing up like a cow –even Sarah & Terrence once they backtracked from their failed attempt at the Fast Forward.

The cow costumes were part of a children’s puppet theater troupe. Dallas & Toni had a great time with their mooing and met with many laughs and smiles from the people they passed. Andrew & Dan, growing weary of each other, had a hard time getting people to help them with directions by continuing their poor tactic of yelling out something like, “Can someone help us?” It took awhile for them to attract help.

Tina & Ken found the milk stand fairly quickly, Tina downed a glass she found on the counter even though it was warm. Unfortunately, she didn’t notice the clue on the bottom of the glass. Off this pair went, searching for another milk stand before they figured out their mistake. Back to the stand they went to get their glass. Then they made the mistake of taking off their cow suit at the puppet theater before heading to the meat stall in the Zelyoniy Bazaar, even though, Toni & Dallas, seeing them, told them they needed the cow suit. The meat market person wouldn’t give them Tina & Ken the clue, so back they went to change into the cow suit once more.

By this time, Toni & Dallas had already found their last clue and were heading to the Pit Stop at Old Square where they came in second behind Nick & Starr.

By the end of the episode excitement ensued as Dan & Andrew messed up and took a cab to the Pit Stop from the meat market. Phil sent them back so they could return to the Pit Stop on foot. He told them to hurry. They hustled. The hustling paid off.

Who was eliminated?: Sarah & Terrence. Despite Sarah & Terrence’s success with each task once they gave up in the Fast Forward, it wasn’t enough for them to edge out Andrew & Dan. Andrew & Dan were ecstatic to find out they were still in the game.

Although disappointed, this couple who uses endearments for each other in about every sentence took the loss in stride. Terrence just can’t eat meat. It’s as simple as that.

Words of Travel Wisdom: Saying things like “Good job my love,” makes difficulties easier to take. Even if you don’t win a million dollars, traveling with the person you want in your life can give you great things and make a relationship stronger. Money can’t buy happiness. (It could help though, don’t you think?)

What Nick and Starr won: Horsepower wave runners. This is the first time a team has arrived at the Pit Stop in first place four times in a row.

Personally, I’d like another team to come in first once in awhile. I was also sad to see Terrence & Sarah go. I’ll miss hearing their endearments.