James has written for various magazines, including Celtic Guide, Mythology Magazine, and Pagan Forest.
I can hear what you’re saying. “Cow heart? Really?” Yeah! Really! It’s quite tasty indeed! Although it’s not as though I woke up one day thinking to myself “mmmmm, cow heart, that has to be good.” Rather it came about in my historical searches of ancestral foods. Trying old-fashioned (meaning anywhere from fifty years to a few millennia years ago) things gives me a connection to my ancestors. Knowing the Irish were big into cattle (anyone up for a doomed raid on Cooley?) and not starving, I looked up a few cow heart recipes.
I didn’t think any of them were perfect for me, so I mucked about a bit and made up my own. I was happy with the outcome, as it ended up having a consistency close to liver, which I also like. Of course, I also have tried Stargazy pie, seafood stew with all the bottom feeders, and (best of all!) haggis (to name a few), so cow heart wasn’t a big stretch for me.
What you’ll need is:
- Cow heart (about four pounds before cutting the fat off)
- Tin of smoked oysters
- 2 Bottles of Guinness or any other not overly strong stout
- Dried onions
- Minced garlic
- Butter (Kerrygold from Ireland is reeeeeally good)
- Marinating liquids and spices (see below for mine)
- Four pieces of bread
The important thing to know about cow heart is that it starts off extremely tough. It’s full of muscle and gristle and all kinds of things that does make those of less fortitude (not you, fine reader! I know you have this!) to turn their noses up. They don’t know what they’re missing, though. The secret, I have found, is…
Step 1: Let it marinate for a couple of days. In this case, use whatever your favorite marinade is that helps break down proteins. Vinegar, citrus, or what have you. I use beer. Sam Adams makes some very good seasonal beers and they insist on putting their flagship lager in each special twelve pack. While it’s a decent beer, I’m way more of an ale guy than a lager guy, so I use it for cooking. It does great with mussels and brats, and it makes a great marinade. I use it and a few spices, of which my favorite is Belgian style white ale by McCormick’s.
Step 2: Let it marinate in the refrigerator for a few days. Seriously, at least a couple. I cannot stress how much better this will be if you let it break down for two or three days. If you try to cook it right away, it will be tough and chewy. The longer the better, as long as it doesn’t go bad.
Step 3: After letting it marinate for a few days, cut off the fat and tendon-y bits. There is a lot! The heart is a tough muscle with a lot of bits that keep it together. Of course if you like fat and gristle, then there is no point to worry about this step. Personally, I like lean meat, so I cut it off, cook it up, and feed it to the olfa girls. Cutting the fat from around the outside is fairly easy, if time-consuming. The gristle on the inside is a bit harder. I generally dig in with my (clean) hands and pull out as much as possible, and then try to cut out the rest with a sharp steak knife. I never get it all, but do manage to get most of it.
Step 4: Make the stout-oyster stuffing! I make this for other items besides cow heart, too, but what else would go better for my Irish ancestral cooking than oysters and stouts!
4a: I never remember to let the bread get stale overnight, so I just toast it. Four pieces usually does it, on a nice medium level.
4b: Over medium heat, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and sprinkle in some dried onion (or real onion) and a teaspoon of minced garlic (or the equivalent real garlic) for flavor. You may have to add another couple of tablespoons of butter to keep it from being too dry. I always do. Add the tine of smoked oysters and let everything mesh together.
4c: Add the stout. I add about three-quarters of the stout, because it’s just a shame to not have a big swig of it. Once the stout has boiled down a bit, take it off the heat. It’s ready to go.
Step 5: Put some foil down in a cooking dish (this is optional, but makes clean up much easier), place the de-fatted cow heart in, add three-quarters or so of the second bottle of Guinness (and then finish it!), and then cover with the oyster-stout dressing. Wrap the foil on top so it keeps it moist while cooking. Put in the oven at 425 degrees (ovens vary) for around two hours and you’re all set! Naturally, temperatures and times vary, so just make sure the meat is easy to cut when it’s out!
It goes down a treat with another stout, but I love an old ale to go with it or an IPA to give it a hoppy, sweet, citrus to complement the smoked oysters and stout of the dressing and the meatiness of the heart.
Enjoy! Slainte and wassail!
© 2016 James Slaven