Pssst… Want to know something? There is more to a cow than steaks, ribs and ground chuck. Most people I know, at least here in the States, are squeamish at the very thought of consuming organ meats. Uuuuuuhhh, too scary, too bloody, too smelly, too … Well let’s take a moment and figure out what it is exactly that makes offal so unappealing to many of us. I’ve heard some seriously lame excuses such as “liver/kidney is body’s filter, so imagine how dirty it is inside!”, or “brain? I can’t even look at it, much less eat it!”. People shudder at the sight of pig’s head, cringe when any animal’s feet are mentioned, and don’t you dare bringing up non-conventional meats at bed time — it will induce night terrors rivaled only by Blair Witch Project.
I personally think that offal is a litmus test of hypocrisy. Thank about it. When you buy steak, ground meat or roast, you hardly ever think of it as a part of a creature that was slaughtered. These cuts of meat are very non-specific and vague, most of the time they are parts of a larger muscle, they have fancy names. We know it’s red meat which tastes great when properly cooked. When we are facing organ meats, we are forced to think of them as body parts — think about it — liver, brain, heart, kidneys, tongue, stomach, they are all precisely named, each has distinctive tissue type and shape and color characteristics … we immediately know each of them is a body part that was taken out of a body that was killed. That’s why we don’t like looking at slaughtered animal’s head — it’s too specific, too gory, it reminds us of death and blood. So we are basically hypocrites. We like our meat, but we don’t like to be reminded that in order to eat it, we have to kill it. We prefer non-specific politically correct looking cuts, deodorized, wrapped neatly in plastic, so that we don’t have to think about where they came from.
Growing up, we often shopped for meat at a farmer’s market. The meat market place was a vast hall lined with rows of steel counters and real butcher blocks made of huge tree stumps. All of the meat was butchered right there — you could request a special cut. Since there were no refrigerators, meat had to be sold quickly — it was simply too easy to spot meat that wasn’t fresh — some of the meat was still steamy, so fresh it was. Farmers who brought their cows, sheep and pigs for sale, would display their heads and feet above the counter. It never grossed anyone out. We strode along, staring at those heads and only thought of them in terms of how they could be utilized best. We had two huge dogs at home, so beef cheeks, along with stomachs and spleens were their typical chow — they were cheap, lean and plentiful. I learned later on that we were missing out all those years — cheeks are delicious and very tender when cooked properly.
We regularly ate organ meats, mostly tongue, kidneys and liver; occasionally mom would prepare brain pate, which was extreme delicacy. Our favorite “sometimes” meal was slow cooked udder stew. I could never find udder here in the States. It never once occurred to us that these things were in any way gross or unclean. Liver was particularly praised for its nutritional value. It was served rare, barely seared on both sides with middle still intact and bloody, and we loved it this way. “Don’t overcook the liver, or it will become too tough!”
In nature, predators instinctively know that organ meats are most valuable nutritionally, so they go for organ meats first, leaving muscle for later. Traditional cultures, including Native Americans did the same — consumed organ meats and fat first, muscles later.
I don’t want to list all the health benefits of offal meats here. There are tons of good articles written on the subject (here is one of them to get you started), and plenty more good recipes. I just want you to open up to the idea that if animal is killed for your benefit, you might as well pay respects and use up as much of it as you can. Modern supermarket culture makes it almost impossible; it separates us from the source of food to the point that some of us think that tuna is chicken. But if you are willing to open yourself to a possibility of eating more than just politically correct cuts of meat, you may find something you’ve been missing out — ethically, nutritionally, and, last but not least, gastronomically.
Below is just one way to deal with beef heart. Heart is all muscle through and through. It doesn’t have any “off” flavors, in the end of things, it’s just a tough lean muscle tissue that needs to be either cooked minimally for a short time, or stewed for a long while to get to tender state. In my family, Stroganoff is one of the staples and favorites, so sometimes I make it with kidneys instead of sirloin, and yesterday I tried it with heart in a slow cooker. I spent, oh, maybe 5 minutes preparing it, and then spent another 15 minutes making whole wheat noodles, just to make it more rustic.
Crock Pot Heart Stroganoff With Dried Mushrooms
- 1 medium size grass-fed beef heart, cleaned
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup dried mushrooms (I used trumpets)
- salt, fresh ground pepper
- 1-1/2 cup stock or white wine
- 3-4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 generous tbsp Dijon or similar mustard
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1-2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan (optional)
- Cut the heart in half lengthwise, if it’s not cut already. Slice each half into thin strips, much like stir-fry, about 1/2″ thick and 3-4″ long
- Sprinkle some fresh ground pepper and salt over slices and drench them in flour
- Slice the onions.
- In a slow cooker bowl, layer onions, dried mushrooms, floured heart slices, bay leaf, thyme, mustard and stock.
- Set slow cooker to “high” setting and let everything cook for about 3 hrs.
- Add sour cream, stir to distribute evenly and cook for another hour.
- If you are making noodles, put cooked noodles in a slow cooker and mix with Stroganoff. Leave for a few minutes to let noodles soak up some of the sauce. Add Parmesan (if using) and stir. Serve hot, sprinkled with finely chopped parsley.