At Thanksgiving this year, I was wandering around my girlfriend’s family farm in Wisconsin. I went outside to check on someone when I spotted something sitting on the grill outside (it’s cold enough at thanksgiving to refrigerate things outdoors, as most people who’ve brined a turkey in the Midwest know). Sitting on the grill was large, fresh heart. Thanksgiving coincides with deer season and I knew exactly what I was looking at. My mouth started to water thinking about corned heart, one of my favorite ways to cook that special part of a big animal.
I asked around and found that someone had put the heart on the grill and forgotten about it outside, so I asked politely if I could bring it home to cook, which I was happy to do in exchange for some turkey carving.
Corned heart and I started a number of years ago when the butcher at Heartland spoke with our meat purveyor and heard he had a deal on beef hearts. Needless to say, I walked in one day to 60 lbs of beef heart in the fridge and started to frantically think of how we could ever use so much before it turned. I don’t think the butcher knew what he was ordering at all, he was a weird guy all around.
Somewhere along the line I got the idea to corn them. The beauty of corning is that the meat needs to sit and cure in a brine, which also prevents it from spoiling. The high amount of salt in the brine preserves the meat and puts it in a sort of stasis, while transforming the texture and flavor. After the meat is “cooked” by the brine, you simmer it slowly until tender. What you’re left with is a meat that’s been heavily cured and can even withstand a lengthy stay in the freezer just like ham.
In the case of heart and other organs you might corn (tongue, testicles) brining does the double duty of purging a bit of the gamey flavor people associate with organs and smoothing out flavors a bit, just like you might soak livers, sweetbreads, kidneys or brains in milk or salt water before cooking.
What you end up with is a great substitute for corned beef, I’ve made all sorts of stuff with it: shaved thin it makes mind altering rueben and of course a wicked corned heart hash. It’s also great just shaved thin and eaten with cheese, crackers and butter, but if you’re in a restaurant, I recommed the meat be shaved daily on a rotary slicer and kept wrapped tightly in plastic between sheets of parchment because the high amount of iron and lack of fat means the meat will quickly dry and oxidize while it’s waiting to go on a charcuterie board.
Corned Venison Heart
Put it in hash. Put in in a reuben. Slice it thin and warm it up with stock and butter, then put it on whatever you want. Corned heart is great stuff.
Another thing to know is that you can make heart pastrami too, but be careful while hot smoking it, since the meat is so lean it can overcook and get tough around the edges very quick. I used to get around that in the kitchen by using a combination oven with a cooking cycle that started with a hot smoke for 30 minutes followed by smoking with 80% steam, which did the trick.
One variation I will do here and there is to braise the hearts or corned beef in stock or a combo of water and wine, like I do with headcheese.
Yield: 1 heart
- 1 whole fresh or frozen venison heart, quartered the long way
- 1/2 cup each: large diced carrot, onion and celery, or just one of medium size of each vegetable, unpeeled and roughly chopped
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 ounce or roughly 5 teaspoons pink curing salt (sodium nitrite)
This is a blend of spices I found I really like, but you can substitute classic pickling spice here, you will need two batches, one for the brine, and one to put in with the finishing braise. Wrap these in cheesecloth for easy removal.
- 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed
- 5 dried allspice berries
- 5 dried cloves
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 black cardamom pod
- 2 fresh bay leaves or one dried
- 1 tablespoon coriander seed
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
- 1 bulb of garlic, halved
Toast the spices except for the garlic and ginger and cool. Wrap the ingredients in cheesecloth for easy removal (optional). Bring the spicebouquet and the brine to a simmer, then chill until cooled to room temperature. Add the quartered venison heart to the brine and store in a container so that the heart is completely submerged, using weights like plates to hold it underneath the brine if needed. Allow the heart to cure in the brine for at least 1 week, making sure to turn the pieces of heart around every other day to promote penetration of the brine.
After a week has passed, remove the heart from the brine, discard the brine. Combine the carrot, onion, celery and the heart and cover with water and the second spice bouquet. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn the heat down low and cook gently for 2 hours, or until the heart is tender. Afterwords, cool the heart in it’s cooking liquid, then transfer to a labeled, dated container and reserve until needed. If you don’t want or have space to store the heart in it’s liquid, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then place in a larger, seal-able bag or vacuum pack. I like to use within a week, but it also freezes really well.
Corned Venison Heart-Heirloom Potato Hash
Serves 2 as a side dish, double the portions for a breakfast entree
- 1 lb mixed heirloom potatoes
- 1 cup corned venison heart, diced 1/4 inch
- 3 tablespoons oil or lard
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- Preheat an oven to 350, then roast the potatoes until just tender. Cool the potatoes, then peel and dice 1/4 inch, you should end up with about 2 cups.
- In a bowl, toss the potatoes with the diced venison heart thoroughly, you don’t want to make mashed potatoes, but don’t be afraid to smush it a bit to cover everything with a decent layer of starch, which helps make the crusty part everyone loves about hash.
- Heat the oil or lard in a cast iron skillet or other non-stick pan until lightly smoking. Add the potato-heart mixture, season lightly with salt and pepper, then press the mixture down and cook on medium-low heat until a golden brown crust forms on the bottom and the mixture moves as one, about 5 minutes.
- Carefully flip the mixture if you’re adept at flipping things in pans, or alternately use the safe and less exciting way of inverting the hash onto a plate, then sliding back into the pan to cook the other side and form a crust. When a nice crust has formed on the other side, the hash is ready, carefully transfer to a plate(s) and serve immediately.