Pickled Heart is a hunter’s recipe, an example of the waste not, want not philosophy that underpins responsible hunting. If you’re going to go to all the trouble to drag an animal out of the forest back to your truck, you’re not going to take the best cuts and toss out the rest. You’re going to get as much mileage out of that animal as you can. This little treasure is buried in the very back of the St. Patrick Parish cookbook, in a section confusingly titled “Beverages, Microwave, and Miscellaneous”. And while you are free to drink the pickling liquid or boil the heart in the microwave, I think this falls firmly in the “miscellaneous” category.
Heart isn’t particularly easy to find. I’ll find beef heart occasionally at my local discount grocer, but I normally source it from the offal freezer at my local specialty butcher. Frozen heart runs me six to eight dollars for about a pound and a half of meat. It’s not particularly easy to work with; there’s an unpleasant membrane that needs to be removed and a couple of pockets of gristle and other inedible bits. There’s not a lot of fat or connective tissue, so even after a long stew or cook the meat can be on the tough side. It’s also got that hard-to-quantify organ meat flavor to it that puts some people off – not quite in the same league as liver or kidney but no one’s going to mistake this for chuck steak. The Pickled Heart recipe works around these obstacles; the heart is sliced thin against the grain, which helps with tenderness, and the vinegar and onions seem to soak up some of the stronger flavors.
The final product is hard to describe. It’s kind of like inexpensive corned beef. On its own it makes for a quick protein pick-me-up, or a novel accompaniment for a charcuterie plate. It’s also delicious on a crusty roll with a little bit of mayonnaise and pickle relish. And once upon a time I recall a fancy dinner out with a simple frisee salad topped with sliced, pickled beef heart and a hard, salty pecorino cheese, with a vinaigrette made from the pickling liquid and a little bit of salad oil. Don’t get me wrong: this is hardly some hidden culinary gem, but it’s a great way to make a difficult piece of meat palatable.
- In a large stockpot, cover beef heart with water and add 1 tbsp salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 2½ - 3 hours. Check in occasionally and skim off any membrane or gross stuff that comes to the top.
- When the heart is finished, remove from the pot and let cool for about five minutes. Reserve the cooking liquid. Remove any excess membrane or inedible gristle from the exterior and slice thinly across the grain. Add to a large mason jar, alternating layers of meat and layers of sliced onion, until jar is filled to within 1" from the top.
- Mix 1 cup of the strained cooking liquid, 1 cup of vinegar, and 1 tbsp of pickling spice, plus the remaining salt in a separate container. Pour into the mason jar over top of the meat and onions. Cap tightly and refrigerate four hours or more before serving.