If Valentine’s Day is all about the heart, then, surely we should be eating it to celebrate?
The heart is such an underrated cut of meat, with barely any fat and full of flavour, it is an animal’s central organ. Why discard this beautiful piece of meat, when there is so much that can be done with it? Some people might balk at the idea of eating heart on Valentine’s Day, but humans have been ritually consuming this piece of meat for millennia.
Yet for some reason, what was once a highly prized cut reserved for the hunter who made the kill, or for people of high social station, has been pushed to the side and relegated to the category labelled ‘offal’ that describes so-called inferior cuts, not worthy of our attention.
Mention eating heart and the mind jumps to Game of Thrones or any other one of countless film scenes where the eating of the heart is portrayed as barbaric and even repulsive. From a young age, we are conditioned to believe that eating heart is taboo. Think of the huntsman bringing back a pig’s heart to the witch in the tale of Snow White, and you have a very good starting point for how we are indoctrinated at an impressionable age to think of it as an act of evil.
If we are to consume the meat of another animal, however, we all agree that it should be done with as much respect and compassion for the creature from which it comes. Surely eating the heart can be considered the conscious consumption of meat there is?
Heart is a wonderful cut because it’s so lean, it can be dried easily, cooked slowly, it is satisfyingly rich but not as gamey as you might think, nutritious and healthy.
Recently, the heart has returned to our plates, thanks to the work of some very fine chefs who continue to plate the organ for its delicious qualities. The rise in popularity of South American cuisine and anticuchos in particular, the offal-based street food has led to many seeing the meat in a new light.
Around the world, heart is almost universally loved, especially in traditional cuisines. The French love duck hearts, while in the Middle East, the cow’s heart is sought after, found thinly sliced on the souq, in Denmark they are stuffed and in Brazil they are found on the barbeques of street food vendors around the country, skewered and cooked over charcoal.
The same is true in Asia where chicken hearts are popular from Thailand to Taiwan, typically grilled on sticks and served as snacks. In Japan, it’s called the yakitori method, and the food is often sold out of small handcarts in high-traffic areas.
Suggested by Judith Servín
Chef Alberto Landgraf from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil who owns the Oteque restaurant says that the heart should be used more in cooking.
"I just find it a very flavourful and underrated piece of meat. All life depends on it, it bombs blood to all the body.
“The heart is the centre of life, but regardless of that, it is a delicious meat and if it is delicious I feel I have to cook it”
“In Oteque sometimes we serve duck hearts as snacks, cooked on the barbeque. Chicken hearts on the barbeque are very common in Brazil. So in my way, to pay a tribute to my home, Rio is to serve them at my restaurant”.
With a new emphasis on reducing waste and ‘nose-to-tail’ eating, no cut should be off the menu, and indeed, of all the taboo meats that are enjoying a resurgence in recent years, heart might indeed be the most delicious.
Our consumption of meat has to be more conscious of the long-term effects of waste and that means that the offal cuts of old, that were once fed to the dog or recycled are now considered desirable cuts that should be celebrated for their wonderful characteristics.
Heart has always been employed in dishes at the upper echelons of fine dining, El Celler de Can Roca famously served pigeon heart in a dish that lives on in the annals of fine dining, on its way to capturing the number one place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list in 2013. As Landgraf says, if it’s delicious, then it deserves to be cooked.
So Saint Valentine’s Day, the time when we listen to the heart, seems an appropriate time to look at some treatments of heart meat by some very talented chefs.
El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain - Pigeon Trilogy: Pigeon heart and the cloud of rice, pigeon stock
El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain - Pigeon Triology: "Botiffaro" and Tatje pigeon breast
Alchemist, Copenhagen, Denmark - Lamb tartare served inside a lamb’s heart together with a cherry sauce in a blood transfusion bag and an organ donor card (2017)
White Rabbit, Moscow, Russia - Dry Aged Venison Heart Covered in Lardo with Kartoplyaniki, Lingonberries and Dandelion sauce
Mugaritz, Errenteria, Spain - VICE: A Heart that Does Not Feel
"We could say the same about the slice of pork heart (that we also called Cold hearted) we served in 2018, with ground “vices”, prepared with elements feared by our arteries, such as butter, sugar, salt… One’s reaction to such an offering probably depends on the type of hunger with which one faces the challenge. It is clear that eating a slice of boiled pork heart is not the same as savoring the flavor of our own prejudices when we open doors with our teeth to previously unknown sensations."
Osso, Lima, Peru. Classic grilled heart beef, accompanied by potatoes confit in bacon fat, crispy potato skin and coriander mayonnaise. Suggested by Rafael Tonon
Lily Vanilli, London - Bleeding Heart Cake
"I first created this for Halloween (back in 2009!) but it went viral around Valentine's day the next year. In 12 years of business it's still one of my most popular cakes. Something about it just seems to resonate with people. They are actually really simple to make (there's a recipe on my website) and make a really great alternative Valentine's day gift."