Sunday, January 20, 2013

Offal Good: Stuffed Lamb Hearts

I received Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating for my birthday last year and have been enthusiastically cooking from it whenever the ingredients present themselves ever since. The recipes are wonderful: simple, unpretentious and delicious - every one that I've tried.

As the name implies, this book emphasizes eating the whole animal - offal (the bits that used to be cut off and tossed by butchers, such as organs, tongues, etc.)

This concept is appealing to me for a few reasons: the first is ethical. I think that recognizing where my food comes from is important, and I think that it's important to use as much of the animal as possible. (Just to me. I'm not evangelical on this.) The second is that we ate very little offal in my home growing up (though, as I've mentioned, there was no shortage of home cooked food, a la my mom) and that means that offal presents a whole range of new cooking and tasting experiences for me. The third and final reason is that offal takes care and skill to prepare, but if you're willing to teach yourself to do it you can be rewarded with unique, rewarding food experiences.

As an added bonus, offal is awfully cheap.

Awfully cheap. Get it? Because "awful" sounds like "offal."
There are two butchers in the Byward Market, where Matt and I work and often meet to gather ingredients before heading home for supper. Saslove's Meat Market is the fancier one, with a fairly reliable supply of whatever they carry, including nifty ingredients like Magret duck breasts and veal sweetbreads. But the one I have more fun with is Aubrey's Meats because the guys who butcher the meat are also the ones who work the counters (whereas Saslove's hires kids to work the counter, but they normally have to go back and ask if you have a question) and because they Aubrey's is more likely to have random bits of offal pop up in stock. I actually jumped up and down/did a little dance when I saw these lamb hearts, much to the amusement of the guy who sold them to me.

The recipe calls for whole hearts, which you stuff with a mix of butter, onions, garlic, red wine, bread and sage, top with bacon and braise. Once these thawed I found that the hearts were not whole, but had been cut partway through to clean them out - important lesson: you have to request unsliced hearts.

How to mend a broken lamb's heart. Before you stuff it.

Because they were sliced open, I used some cheesecloth to bind them up and hold them shut so that the bread wouldn't seep out while they were cooking. The recipe also calls for six hearts, not two, which you are to arrange in a deep roasting dish that is about the size of six lamb's hearts, standing up, so that you can pack them in snugly and braise away.

I swear Fergus is usually less demanding.

I dealt with these requirements by braising the two hearts in a small, ceramic/cast iron pot. They didn't quite fill it up (three would have) so there was a lot of extra braising liquid (stock). If you give this a try and have this much excess liquid I might recommend diluting the stock so that when you reduce it isn't so salty - or be a good cook and make your own stock so you have more control over the seasoning.

Lots of room here.
Bacon isn't a terribly demanding request. We love bacon. If we have friends over for breakfast I often have bacon on hand. In fact, assuming the duck prosciutto curing in my basement right now doesn't go terribly wrong, I'd like to try making my own bacon. But if we have a package of bacon it can take a long time to finish it. We do go through Wiltshire rashers pretty reliably, so I substituted one of these for three pieces of streaky bacon, with tasty results. I'm positive they'd be good, but much richer, with streaky bacon.

After all was said and done, these little fellas were really tasty, and more or less perfectly portioned as they are. We served them (as recommended) with mashed rutabaga and (my addition) mixed greens with a basic red wine vinaigrette for a perfectly satisfying Sunday dinner.

Adapted from Fergus Henderson's Stuffed Lamb's Hearts 
(in order to feed two instead of six and to lighten things up)

1 tsp butter
1/2 red onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup red wine
60g stale white bread, chopped into 1cm cubes
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh sage, leaves only, chopped
2 lamb's hearts (ideally, intact with a hole only at the top)
2 Wiltshire rashers, large enough to cover the heart (or 6 slices streaky smoked bacon)
Chicken stock

Melt the butter in a pan and cook the onions and garlic gently - you don't want them to brown at all, only to become soft. Add the wine and reduce by half, then add the bread and cook until "unctuous, but not squidgy." (Surprisingly, that is helpful.) Let the stuffing cool, then add the sage.

Trim the hearts of excess fat nodules, especially around the opening, along with anything that doesn't look like you want to eat it (sinews, etc.), and the flap at the top, if it's still there. If you've managed to secure yourself whole hearts, you'll need to clean out the ventricles - the easiest way will be with your fingers, so man up. I'm assuming that mine were cut open because the butcher assumes people don't want to do this.

Preheat oven to 350F.
Stuff the hearts in both ventricles, leveling off the stuffing at the top. Lay either one Wiltshire rasher or three slices streaky bacon (in a star pattern) over the top of the heart and tie with butcher's twine to secure.

Find your deep, oven proof container of choice and nestle your hearts in there. Add stock until they are nearly covered. Cover with aluminum foil (or, if you forget like me, don't) and place in the oven for 2 hours.

Once the hearts are cooked, remove them from the liquid and keep them warm. Strain the liquid and reduce by half to make a delicious sauce.

Suggested serving with mashed rutabega (I boil mine, then mash with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper), a green salad and the rest of your bottle of wine.