Be Still My Heart…
November 4, 2016
… so I can eat you.
Iggy isn’t the only one to get treats when I kill a deer. It’s been pretty good eats around here the last couple of evenings. As usual, there are two parts of the deer that I like to celebrate with right after a kill, the heart and the tenderloins.
I cooked up a tenderloin Wednesday night, pan fried with butter and garlic. With a reasonably decent Malbec, I have to admit I was feeling a little decadent.
I was going to hold off on the heart until this weekend, but as last night rolled around and I was craving Mexican food, I decided to whip up some heart tacos. There they are in the photo, and they were much, much better than they look. I’m no food photographer.
I can hear you saying, skeptically, “heart?”
Absolutely, and if you have never tried it, you’re missing out. It’s not like liver (which I can’t stand) or other wobbly bits. It has a texture more like a firm steak, and the flavor is concentrated, meaty goodness. It’s also easy to deal with in the kitchen. The only thing you should do differently than other cuts is wash the blood out of the big vessels.
Now, I’m no Hank Shaw, and I don’t really use recipes when I cook, but I generally do OK. Not that it’s particularly difficult to do a good job with venison heart. The trick, as with any game meat, is not to overcook it. Personally, I like it cooked somewhere between rare and medium rare. I also, personally, like to let the flavor of the meat take the main stage… so no bacon wrapping, or marinating in strong flavors like Italian salad dressing (yes, that’s a thing).
For the tacos, I trimmed the tough parts off of the heart first, and then cut it into cubes about 1/2″ or 3/4″. What are these “tough parts”, you ask? It’s hard to describe, specifically, but if you have ever handled a heart, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Nothing about processing wild game meat is rocket science. Seriously, you can do most of it by feel.
I put the cubes in a bowl, and tossed them with a little olive oil. Then I mixed up my own version of “taco spices”, including some salt, a liberal dash of black pepper, some cumin, some onion powder, and some garlic. That may or may not have been everything. A family friend brought me a bag of little hot peppers (not sure what kind, but they look like Thai chilis, and they’re hot as hell), so I finely diced three or four and tossed them in with the spice mix. I like really spicy stuff, so if you’re jotting this down for future use, consider your own heat tolerance.
I squeezed a lime over the meat before tossing the whole mix into the iron skillet with a very light coating of bacon grease to saute for a few minutes. I use my judgement on when things are done, which isn’t very scientific, but I’m reasonably good at it. You can test doneness by pressing on the meat to see how much it gives. It should be just firm. Mushy means it’s less done, and hard means it’s over done. Personally, I’d rather err on the side of underdone than risk overcooking.
For the topping, I just diced a tomato, an alligator pear (avocado), and a few more of those little peppers. I added a half spoonful of chopped garlic and some cumin, then squeezed a lime over this as well. I would have loved some diced onion in the mix, but I’m out of onions right now, so I lived without.
I love to fry my corn tortillas lightly in the skillet, but last night it was getting late, so I buttered them and stuck them under the broiler for a couple of minutes. They weren’t perfect, but they still had that toasty corn deliciousness.
So that’s how I do it, and I was really happy with the results. If this is too non-specific for you, and you’d prefer to use a recipe, I highly recommend taking a look at Hank Shaw’s latest book, Buck, Buck, Moose. Hank’s recipes are generally easy to follow, and well-researched as well.
By the way, I like to eat the hearts of every type of game I hunt, from deer to wild hogs, to game birds. They’re all wonderful on the table.