Ditch your slow cooker

Captain Beefheart

by Jefferson Munroe

Captain Beefheart

Sybil Teles

Wine pairings: Phantom from Bogle Vineyards or Sin Zin from Alexander Valley Vineyards. Music pairing: captainbeefheart.com.  

In the butchering world, a world of knives and hooks, there are three types of muscle: skeletal, smooth and cardiac. Skeletal muscle is meat we all know and love. Smooth muscle wraps around organs. The cardiac muscle class begins and ends with one muscle, the heart. Unique in that it begins working before birth and continues until the end, the heart, especially beef heart, is an extremely lean organ. And it should be—if skeletal muscles are the body builders of the meat world, bulked up but full of fat, the heart is an ultra marathoner. A veal calf’s heart beats 14 million times during its life; your average steer’s heart beats 59 million times; and the 6-year-old buffalo heart I made into chili a few winters ago came in at an astounding 190 million beats.

This lifelong training regiment creates a super lean muscle surrounded by a ring of hardened fat and ventricles. When I hear the words “hardened fat and ventricles,” I reach for my boning knife and cutting board. After trimming these surfaces inside and out, you’ll be left with several dark, triangular pieces of heart meat. These pieces of meat are similar in fat content to a fine piece of tenderloin, but unless your tenderloin came from a stud bull, you’ll find the heart is significantly tougher. Don’t approach cooking it the way I did initially, hoping that a long-term braising session would tenderize the muscle fibers and mellow the beefy flavor. To the contrary, after simmering on the stove for two days, my little hearty chunks were still chewy and intensely, disturbingly beefy.

The trick to preparing beef heart is to ditch the slow cooker, fire up the grill, and find some sharp steel. When making the Beef Heart Sliders and Meat Pies, the addition of fatback (or bacon) helps to achieve the proper fat-for-flavor ratio (four parts lean meat, one part fat), but grinding is what pre-chews the meat. This means you can undercook your burger and eat it too. With Beef Heart Satay, the thinly sliced meat is marinated overnight, which helps tenderize any slices you cut too thick. Finding hearts on Martha’s Vineyard is fairly easy, as most beef producers have a couple stashed away in their freezer, and most butcher shops and departments in grocery stores can get them in with a little notice.