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Danger Zone: Carménère braised lamb’s heart
For me, the true essence of living dangerously is to simply throw out the rules… and that’s how I’ve chosen to get myself into the danger zone for Total Food Geeks.
New ingredients, new techniques, and no recipe to follow. As a baker, stepping into this unknown is rather terrifying. I’ve been inspired by a copy of Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating Cookbook that I recently picked up at the library. With book in hand, I set out to my closest butcher, Crombies, and let them be my tour guide to the nasty bits.
I walked in and inquired about what types of offal or any uncommon piece of meat I could experiment with. The initial reaction I received was a cocked head and gentle laugh, probably from my obvious American accent and general mystified state of being in a butcher shop. But after I started throwing in words like bone marrow, pig ears, ox tongue, and pork belly, they began to understand that I knew what I was getting myself into.
The gentleman assisting me grabbed another butcher and both headed to the back of the shop to see what my choice cuts would be. After a few minutes, they both returned with bloodied hands and laid their treasures on a marble table before me. “All we have is lamb,” the older of the butchers told me. Yikes, lamb. I’ve never even cooked lamb chops before and now I’m being presented with the rest of it. My choices were the tongue, the heart, and offal, like intestines, liver and stomach. In the question over the head and the heart, and the mysterious other, I chose to follow the heart. My lamb’s heart was quickly wrapped up (only £2!) and I made sure to get some sausages just in case I couldn’t stomach it. I said my thanks and scurried off to the market to get some vegetables to flavor this experiment.
I was told the best way to cook heart was to braise it and fortunately Henderson’s book had a recipe for stuffed lamb’s hearts that did just that. I began by concocting a stuffing of mushrooms, parsley, onions, garlic, and bread crumbs. As it cooled, I started the messy task of cleaning the heart by removing any unwanted bits, like blood clots and ventricles. While washing, I gained a new-found respect for this vital organ. I watched the watery blood seep through and pool along the bottom of the basin, amazed by how much blood this hand sized chunk of meat could hold. My thoughts then darted away to braising. I did a quick Google search to figure out what that actually entailed, as grilling and baking have always been my preferred choices for cooking meat.
With my newly acquired knowledge, I turned on the heat, grabbed a bottle of Chilean Carménère and got to braising. I packed the empty heart with stuffing, tied it with the closest string I could find and got to searing with some garlic. I then continued to cook the heart in the red wine and the room filled with the steam of wine and the smell of gamey meat. This was not as pleasant as I hoped.
My heart was ready once I noticed it had absorbed the beautiful burgundy color from the wine. I removed it and allowed it to cool as I reduced the sauce. I plated my experiment and pushed myself further into the danger zone. I had navigated through throwing a stuffing together and figuring out how to braise, but now it was time to taste. With the hot smell of red wine out of the air, I cut myself a piece of heart and dabbed it into the sauce. My initial reaction was surprise because it was a familiar texture and taste. Only slightly rubbery and tasting of lamb, it wasn’t offensive to the palate and was rather tender. I continued to cut chunks off and wished I had added more garlic and found new surprises in each bite. My mind wandered to new adventures I could have with lamb heart, like citrus-marinated, grilled lamb heart tacos. Pleased with my jaunt into the unknown, I’m delighted to say I no longer live outside of the danger zone. However, I still ate the sausages.
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