When I grew up, we rarely ate the heart of the animals we harvested (although we did have another tradition involving it that’s best told in person – so if we ever meet, you’ll have to ask!)
The main reason for not consuming it? We just didn’t know what to do. A few of the hunters I hunt with have been on a mission to use a few of the ‘odd bits’ in the last few years and we’ve had a great success with hearts in the last few years. I’ve also seen them for sale at farmers markets and they tend to be remarkably affordable compared to other parts of the animal.
The heart, unlike the liver or other offal, is actually a muscle. It’s extremely lean and tastes like a combination of muscle meat and liver (in a pleasant way). I like it braised and it’s a fantastic ingredient served as-is, sliced thin with a cheese tray or cubed in a meat pie or stew.
The heart we consume is very, very fresh. It hasn’t had a chance to age, dry or properly drain. We’ve learned that brining it for a few days has a few major benefits:
- the brine adds subtle flavor.
- clots of blood in the arteries congeal and are easily removed at the end of the process.
- the salt in the brine helps remove blood from smaller vessels – this leads to juicier meat.
To brine it is rather simple: add salt and other ingredients to water, bring to a boil and let cool. Cover the heart in the cooled brine and place in a cool spot (like a fridge or a cold cellar) for 2-5 days and then cook.
I like to weigh the main ingredients for the best results. Here’s the base of a brine that I use:
- 4 liters (quarts of water)
- 600 g (just more than a pound) os salt
- 400 g sugar (I like to use 50% brown, 50% white but you can use 100% of either)
- 3-6 bay leaves
I then vary the brine by adding any (and often all) of the following:
- 1-2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 1-2 tablespoons of chile flakes (or dehydrated hot pepper)
- 1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated and smashed
- 0.5-1 tablespoon juniper berries
- 0.5-1 tablespoon cloves
If we’re successful on our hunt next year, I want to try to add some foraged items (such as pine needles) to the brine.
We’ll share a recipe for moose heart in the next few days (it will also work for other hearts too).