Halloween: You gotta have (a) heart

Ya gotta have heart

I believe that I could save a lot of time with this blogging thing if I just came up with a recipe template that started “insert your favorite Neola Farms meat cut here”. Recently there was a new addition to the Neola Farms bill of fare, beef heart. When we asked about the beef heart, we were told it was a fairly popular item that was especially popular with folks from Peru. For five dollars a heart, we figured we didn’t have a lot to lose.

Cupid's arrow
Cupid’s arrow takes the form of a nice skewer.

A bit of internet research revealed anticuchos picantes, spicy skewered beef heart, a traditional dish of Peru. We had the recipe, now all we needed was a time. Then suddenly it was obvious. If Valentines Day can have those silly cardioid heart shapes, then Halloween can have a heart too, only this will be a real heart. In addition to the heart, we substituted butternut squash for pumpkin. The squash was roasted with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar. A small arugula salad gave us that healthy color and nice crispness.

A hearty meal
A hearty meal

To make the heart, first we cleaned it. We cut away a few small pieces that were very hard. We figure they were where the aorta and vena cava joined the heart. We really tried not to think too much about it. Or I tried not to, at least. Mama Squirrel can be a little bit scary that way. Next, we carefully peeled away the thin membrane covering the heart. The meat is absolutely beautiful. Since it is such hard-working muscle, there is no marbling at all, just rich red meat.

Since the meat is hard-working though, it is potentially tough. For that reason, the recipes we found called for an overnight bath in vinegar to tenderize the meat. Vinegar for tenderness and hot peppers, garlic, and cumin for flavor made the marinade. The next day we skewered the meat, brushed it with a bit of the marinade, and cooked it under the broiler for a few minutes.

The result was tender, succulent meat with a lightly spicy flavor. Unfortunately, the vinegar imparted far too much of a sour flavor. We liked the meat enough to try again. This time we are going to use a nice red wine for the marinade and braise the meat rather than broil it. I will report on that endeavor soon.

In addition to expanding into the cuisine of a new culture, we also stretched our wings a bit more with how we experience our food. Jeffrey Steingarten and Anthony Bourdain have both written about witnessing the slaughter of a hog. I myself have pulled the succulent flesh from a whole pork shoulder, a shoulder with the flesh clinging to what is clearly a leg bone, a shoulder with glistening skin still bearing an inspection stamp.

Holding a heart in my hands was yet another step in getting closer to the source of my food. Nothing says life, especially a life that was given, more than a heart. Squirrelly, Jr., tried the heart. He wasn’t thrilled with the recipe either. He wants to try the next heart dish we make, but he also wants to try a week of vegetarian meals. In the long run, I doubt that I, or he, will give up meat. If we are going to eat meat though, it is very important to me that we appreciate where it comes from.

Somehow I have turned wacky Halloween fun into moping over food. Honestly, preparing the heart was morbid fun. The reflection came later. The meat was excellent, just overly flavored by the vinegar. If you eat meat, you should try a heart. You gotta have heart.

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