All too often, the heart of big game animals gets left behind when that animal is field dressed. That is a shame. Hearts, when trimmed and prepared correctly, make excellent table fare. Don’t let tales of tough and chewy heart dishes turn you away. If you don’t already save the hearts from your game animals, try this cleaning method and recipe with your next one. You won’t be disappointed.
That tough and chewy part I mentioned? It normally comes about when the fibrous connective tissue is left attached to the heart muscle. To get rid of it, simply open the heart up and spread it out flat. You will be able to see the strong connective fibers that run vertically up the heart. Trim them out. While you have the heart open, trim away any fat, arteries, and other connective tissue you see. Trim the heart into thin strips, across the grain. If you missed any of the fibrous material, you will find it when you slice the muscle.
This recipe is quick to cook and makes a great appetizer or quick main dish. An overnight soak in buttermilk adds a zippy flavor to the meat and helps to make it even more tender. Using buttermilk in the gravy adds a tangy flair to it as well and pairs well with the heavy black pepper. If you are serving the dish as an appetizer, put the gravy in small bowls for dipping.
1-2 hearts (venison or any other big game), trimmed and sliced
1 cup buttermilk for marinade
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Oil or lard for frying
¾ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups buttermilk
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup of reserved oil and crumbs from frying of heart
Trim and prep the heart. Slice into half-inch thick strips. Place the strips in a bowl and pour over 1 cup of buttermilk. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the strips from the marinade, but leave them covered with buttermilk. Toss in the dredge mixture to coat. Allow the dredged strips to rest at least 10 minutes before frying so that the coating sticks to the meat.
Heat a half cup of oil or lard to medium-high in a cast iron skillet. Once the oil reaches 350 degrees, carefully drop in the strips of meat, one at a time. Don’t overcrowd the skillet. Fry the strips for 1-2 minutes per side, or until the crust is golden brown and crunchy. Don’t overcook, medium-rare to medium is the optimum doneness level.
Set the fried strips aside and loosely cover with foil to keep them warm. Dump the flour into the skillet. Stir the mixture well to allow the oil to evenly coat the flour and to loosen any stuck-on bits from the skillet. Continue cooking for a few more minutes until the flour begins to take on a golden color. Reduce the heat to medium and pour in the milk. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a light boil. Add the salt and pepper and stir well. When the mixture reaches the desired thickness, remove the pan from the heat.
Serve the fried strips topped with gravy or serve on a tray with bowls of gravy for dipping.
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