Superficially at least, eating beef heart would seem like more of a gross-out gag than a gastronomic pleasure. (Zombies and Andrew Zimmern notwithstanding.) And yet, like most superficial assumptions, the idea that beef heart is gruesome as opposed to delicious is completely wrong. It's both remarkably lean (about 95 percent to be exact-ish) and as rich in nutrients as liver. "Provided the animal was healthy, the heart can be a very tender, very sweet muscle," says Justin Severino, the chef and owner of the Pittsburgh-based restaurant Cure, which Bon Appétit listed among the country's best new restaurants in 2012.
As such, it's increasingly popping up on menus. Preston Clark, formerly of the meat mecca Resto in New York City, fashioned beef heart into schnitzel, while Chris Pandel of The Bristol in Chicago pairs it with a watermelon salad. At Cure, Severino typically prepares beef heart in one of two ways—either as tartare or as part of a Bolognese. "Whenever I put heart on the menu," he explains, "people definitely become intrigued because we quickly sell out."
Cooking with beef heart at home can be highly anatomical—i.e., ventricles can be found both inside and outside of the heart, necessitating considerable open-heart surgery to remove them. And so, the best thing to do is to get the heart from a reputable local butcher and have them do all the work. (Plan ahead, though, since it might require a special order.) For instance, the butcher can cut the beef heart into the shape of a steak or grind it into tiny pieces akin to ground beef—the way in which Severino prepares it for his Beef Heart Bolognese, full recipe below.
Beef Heart Bolognese
2 lbs. ground beef heart
1 lbs. sweet Italian sausage, loose out of casing
8 oz. diced pancetta
2 diced yellow onions
8 minced cloves garlic
1 cup diced celery root
1 cup diced carrots
9 quarts pureed San Marzano tomatoes
8 oz. dry vermouth
8 oz. heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lbs. pappardelle pasta
Fresh oregano or basil
In a thick-bottomed saucepot, slowly render diced pancetta to crispy over medium heat. Add minced garlic, and cook to golden brown. Add onions, carrots and celery root. Reduce heat to low, and cook slowly until the onions, carrots and celery are soft and sweet, but not caramelized. Add ground beef heart and sweet Italian sausage. Stir to prevent clumping. De-glaze pan with vermouth and reduce by half. Add tomato puree.
Over low heat, allow sauce to cook for roughly three hours until the bitter and sour notes of the tomatoes are transformed to a sweet-balanced tomato sauce. Add cream and salt and pepper to taste. Reserve what you need for dinner; the rest freezes well for future use. The recipe yields 8 quarts of sauce.
Cook pasta three-quarters of the way done in salted, rapidly boiling water. Transfer mostly cooked pasta into reserved sauce and continue cooking, letting the pasta soak up the sauce.
Transfer to serving bowls and garnish with Parmesan cheese and fresh oregano and/or basil.
Photos by Adam Milliron