It’s mid-February, and hearts are everywhere: heart-shaped balloons, heart-shaped candy, heart-shaped cards, heart-shaped pizza. We’re smack dab in the middle of American Heart Month sponsored by the American Heart Association, and Valentine’s Day is on the minds of romantics and retailers everywhere. Unfortunately, the one place that’s lacking in hearts is the meat counter. Perhaps in other regions of the U.S. of A. hearts are easier to find, but at my local grocery stores, hearts are difficult to come across (unless you count turkey giblets). However, that does correlate with data that show the “top ten” cuts of beef – heart not being among them – sold at retail accounted for nearly a third of beef retail sales in 2018 (Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, 2018). The cuts in the top ten list such as steaks and stew meat are typically what I find when I usually shop. So, in my attempt to be more adventurous in my cooking with the recipe beef heart en mole, and to have subject matter for this heart-themed post, I had to hoof it to my local meat processor, Belgrade Meat Center, which offers processing for farmers and hunters and sells a range of products, many of which are made on the premises. While there, I was able to buy a frozen beef heart weighing about three-and-a-half pounds. Victory was mine.
I had never thawed a beef heart in the microwave before, let alone cook with one, but my first attempt went surprisingly well by just using the “DFRST MEAT” setting, and after half an hour that heart was thawed just like the male protagonist’s of any Jane Austen novel. As I cubed the meat, I noted its structure was very firm consistent; it lacked the long, “grainy” appearance found in pork roasts and chicken thighs. The reason? Hearts are very special because they are composed chiefly of cardiac muscle – a muscle type unique to this organ. Like skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle contains cells arranged in structures called sarcomeres, but they are shorter and connected to neighboring cells to allow the heart to move in its pump-like fashion and push blood through the body’s circulatory system. Since the heart is composed of so many cells working together with the same, very important task of moving blood, it was no wonder the meat I cut up had a very uniform color, appearance, and texture.
After I had cubed enough heart meat and prepared the rest of my ingredients, I set about making a beef heart stew with mole sauce. The meat, veggies, and sauce simmered for about two-and-a-half hours, and the end result was a savory, succulent stew with tender morsels of beef heart. (The recipe also included bacon which made it all the more amazing).
Since the stew was so delicious, I was a little upset at myself for not cooking with beef heart earlier in my life. As stated above, beef heart can be difficult to find in mainstream stores, so a separate trip to a specialty store might be needed to procure this deep red gold. It’s a shame that hearts are not more readily integrated into cuisine eaten in my neck of the woods, since heart meat is rich in minerals such as iron, selenium, and zinc, B-complex vitamins, and the antioxidant coenzyme Q10, all of which have positive impacts on health (Seymour, 2017). Beef heart meat also meets the USDA’s definition of an “extra lean cut of beef” as it has less than 5 grams total fat and less than 2 grams saturated fat per 100 g serving (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2019). Perhaps the fact that heart is classified among the “variety meats” that include liver, kidneys, brain, tripe, tongue, and thymus glands (AKA sweetbreads), and the phrase “variety meat” alone, can be off-putting (Boyle, 1995). Sadly, a fear of the unknown might keep people from trying these nutrient-rich meats their whole lives, but I believe finding an easy, well-written recipe, a little instruction from a friend or the inter-web, and the willingness to try something different can lead to a new favorite dish that might not just be hearty, but also liver-y, tripe-y, etc.
Boyle, E. (1995). Variety Meats [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.asi.k-state.edu/doc/meat-science/variety-meats.pdf.
Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (2018, September 17). The Retail Meat Case: America’s Favorite Beef Cuts. Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/retail/sales-data-shopper-insights/americas-favorite-cuts
Mayo Clinic Staff (2019, October 29). Cuts of beef: A guide to the leanest selections. Nutrition and Healthy Eating. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/cuts-of-beef/art-20043833
Seymour, T. (2017, September 3). Are Organ Meats Good For You? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319229.php