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Monday, February 2, 2015

Eat Your Heart Out

I'm a sucker for the offal bits,  organ meats, or the more polite term, variety meats. While tender sweetbreads (thymus glands), honeycombed tripe, and kidneys make me swoon, I'm particularly fond of livers and hearts. I'm not picky. Foie gras (my personal favorite) might be the standard bearer in the liver world, but I'll take a basket of fried chicken livers covered with peppered cream gravy or calf's liver smothered in onions any day. Crunchy. Soft. Irony. Heaven. Hearts, on the other hand, beat to a different drum. Depending on the animal and the size of the heart, the  textures and flavors vary wildly. When cooked, chicken hearts tend to tighten up. Whether grilled or braised, they turn into little chewy savory gumdrops.  Larger turkey hearts, (most often relegated to giblet gravies or stuffings) also pack a firm bite, but have a stronger flavor. Big robust beef hearts, the king of hearts, have meaty steak-like qualities. Long cooked, grilled, or pan seared, the tender meat has subtle mineral high notes while still retaining a slight chew.

And then we have lamb hearts. Bigger than poultry hearts, but much smaller than beef hearts, lamb hearts have genteel sensibilities. They're more...well... manageable. When cleaned, their hollowed out chambers are perfect vessels for stuffing. A natural fit, so to speak. Perfect pouches. Stuffed with anything under the sun, lamb hearts become meltingly tender when braised low and slow. That said, they can also be grilled or quick seared with a hint of pink for a lighter touch.

Grilled Lamb Hearts.
In the heart cleaning world, I got lucky. After ripping open a small package of Four Hills Farm Lamb Hearts, I realized that the folks at the farm did most of the dirty work. The hearts graciously arrived butterflied and cleaned of their tubes, arteries, vessels, ventricles, and valve flaps. Win. I simply trimmed the fat from the outer chambers before flipping them over to trim away the remaining sinew, silver skin, and stringy membranes from the inner chambers.

With all the junk dispatched, I sliced the cleaned hearts into bite sized pieces and tossed them into a small mixing bowl before marinating them in 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, a dusting of citrusy sumac, salt, and pepper.

After 3 hours, I carefully stabbed the marinated broken heart pieces onto pre-soaked wooden skewers along with roasted garlic cloves, shaved zucchini, tiny pickled Peruvian peppers, slivered shallots, and sliced red bell peppers.

Working over a high flame, I brushed a heavy cast iron grill pan with vegetable oil. When the grill pan started to smoke, I slapped the skewered hearts onto the grates, brushed them with the marinade, and seared them for 2 minutes on each side before pulling them from the heat to rest.

With the slightly charred hearts on deck, I used a vegetable peeler to shave 1/2 pound of gorgeous organic rainbow carrots into ribbons and tossed them with a blood orange vinaigrette (3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons fresh blood orange juice, 1 minced  shallot, 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, salt and cracked black pepper).

I nestled the lamb skewers into the feathery ribbons, scattered a few  peppers to the side, and seasoned the meat with flaky sea salt before finishing with fresh mint and pea greens.


The offal bits.
Eat your heart out.

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