This Valentine's Day why not cook with some heart? Real heart that is. Food blogger Danny aka Food Urchin reports on previous Valentine's meals and explains why lamb's heart is on the menu. He gives handy hint and tips for cooking heart and a recipe for braised lamb heart.
As Shakespeare once said, whilst mulling over a pint of watery ale in some tavern somewhere, the course of true love never did run smooth. And I should know, as my romantic record is littered with calamity, especially with regards to Valentine’s Day. Take a teenage trip to the cinema for instance, to watch Alive, a story of a plane crash where the survivors survived by eating the dead. I paid for the tickets, I bought the popcorn and everything was going so well until my date announced quietly during the credits at the end that she was a vegetarian.
Another time, I spent an evening with a girlfriend penned in at rather packed local Italian. Halfway through the meal, feeling lightheaded and a tad squiffy, I popped to the toilet to freshen up and returned to my table and carried on with conversation; eyes down, focussing on my plate. When I finally looked up, my girlfriend had changed from a blonde to a bemused brunette, which was very confusing but a piercing burn from across the room soon signalled that I was sitting at the wrong table. The boyfriend who was hovering over me didn’t look too happy either.
And then there was the night spent down at casualty with a suspected broken toe. A Valentine’s spent indoors this time with much sweat, tears and blood lavished on preparing a sumptuous meal. Boy, the girl that I was cooking for was going to be so lucky. However, when it came to plating up the first course, a piece of chicken had the nerve to fall on the floor and so I lashed out at it in anger and planted my foot firmly in the dishwasher. The lucky girl who came running into the kitchen after hearing my howling became my wife soon after, so in some ways that Valentine’s Day was quite fortuitous but given past history, I try not to pay too much attention to the commercial love-fest these days.
That said, if I don’t make any sort of effort for this coming Friday, I might just get it in the eye from Cupid’s arrow so the game plan I am drawing up at present is to serve up a delicious and tasty plateful of lambs’ heart.
Now, you might consider dishing up some glistening heart for a romantic supper to be another recipe for disaster, especially if you are squeamish. But with some care and attention, this ball of muscle, the most life-giving of edible organs can make for excellent eating indeed. I would even go so far as to say that lambs’ hearts are offally good. Badoom-tish.
The key to cooking heart in my opinion, as with all tough, well exercised meat, is to cook it low and slow. With ox heart, which is huge in comparison to lamb, you can go down the route of marinating slices in herbs, oil and vinegar and then flash frying, treating it like steak. However, l prefer the warm cosseted mouthful of heart that has been braised for a couple of hours at least and this is where lambs’ heart comes into its own. The flavour is strong, there is no denying that and the accompanying red wine sauce is quite rich but you can lighten things up easily enough. With this recipe, I use plenty of lemon thyme and parsley in the sausage stuffing mix and I like to sprinkle gremolata (namely finely chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic) over afterwards for an extra fresh citrus kick. And because comfort eating is on the agenda here, I like to serve up heart on mashed potato, although polenta or any other mashed root vegetable would also be nice.
In the preparation, there is the slightly grisly business of trimming out any nasty tubes or gristle but you can always ask your butcher to do that for you. Furthermore, by wrapping the heart in streaky bacon you do sort of hide the fact of what you are eating and bacon does deliver a sort of all-round win to a dish don’t you think?
If the suggestion of eating heart on Valentine’s Day does still wrinkles noses though, try this recipe out anyway and try blindfolding your partner before sliding a forkful of tenderness into their mouth.
Who knows where it might lead.
Braised lambs’ heart, stuffed and wrapped with bacon
2 Lambs’ hearts, trimmed of excess fat, tubes and gristle removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
100 grams sausage meat
3 or 4 sprigs of lemon thyme, leaves picked and chopped
Small bunch of parsley leaves, finely chopped
25 grams stale bread crumbs
4 to 6 rashers of streaky smoked bacon
Salt and pepper
Olive oil, for frying
For the braise
300 mls of red wine, spicy Shiraz is good
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
Bouquet garni (thyme, parsley and bay)
5 tbsp of good Balsamic vinegar (to finish the sauce)
First, preheat the oven to 140C and then place a frying pan on a medium heat. Add a splash of olive oil and then throw in the onion and garlic and gently stir through for about 10 minutes until soft. Take off the heat and leave to cool completely. Once cool, place into a bowl and add the sausage meat, herbs and bread crumbs and mix together well. Season with salt and pepper and then mix some more. Then take your lambs’ hearts and stuff the mixture into each cavity.
Now, depending on the size of the hearts, you will need to wrap each one in two or three rashers of bacon and secure everything with some string.
Next, start to prepare your braise by placing a small casserole or oven-proof sauce on the hob over a medium heat. Again, add a splash of oil and then add the chopped onion, carrot and celery and stir until the vegetable begin to soften and caramelise. Wipe clean your frying pan with some kitchen towel and also place on the hob, over a medium heat. Add the hearts and carefully brown all over and when done place them in your casserole on top of the vegetables, along with the bouquet garni. Deglaze the frying pan with a splash of red wine and pour all over the hearts, along with the rest of the red wine. Bring to boil, cover with a lid and the place the casserole into the oven. Leave to cook for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, place a clean saucepan on the hob over a high heat and add the Balsamic vinegar and reduce until it becomes syrupy. Take off heat and leave to one side.
Once the time for the hearts is up, they should be very tender so remove from the casserole and keep warm. Take the braising liquor and using a sieve, pour off into the saucepan with the Balsamic reduction, pressing the vegetables down with a ladle or spoon to extract maximum flavour. There might be some excess oil floating on top so try skim as much of that off using a spoon or dabbing with kitchen towel. Then place the saucepan back onto a high heat and stir and reduce by half or until the sauce coat the back of a wooden spoon.
To serve, slice the hearts evenly and place them on your chosen bed of comfort, drizzle the sauce all over and add some gremolata if you so wish, along with some extra vegetables of choice.
Inspired? For more romantic recipes for Valentine's Day, visit Great British Chefs collection.