One of the exciting things about Farmer’s Markets is picking up unusual hard-to-find meat from the farmer who is doing the producing. Walthamstow has some very interesting meat, a couple of whom are selling rose veal, which I love.
Lucy’s Veal was at Walthamstow this last weekend, and I picked up a calf’s heart from them. Now it might be that you are not used to eating offal, but as a child, I think roughly half our meals were made up of these bits and bobs – they are both cheap and tasty. We had tripe, kidneys, liver and, one of my favourites, heart. I have never got the taste for sweetbreads or brains – I think because even back then, these were delicacies and too expensive for our table. When we had hearts they were never calf's hearts (I don't think I ever saw one, and to be honest, since getting this, I've never seen one again), always lambs' hearts (nice and portion sized) or ox heart (quite tough and needs really long cooking).
Veal in the 1960s was frantically expensive milk veal imported from Holland, and I don’t think we ever ate it. It is such a pity that rose veal wasn’t about then. Now, with the rise in popularity of ethically farmed rose veal, which allows farmers to raise the bull calves they would have slaughtered as worthless in the past, fresh veal and liver are not as frighteningly expensive as they once were. When you consider that our dairy herds are producing calves in order to continue to produce the milk we want, you can see that this must have meant a disgraceful waste.
Heart needs long slow cooking, and although you may read that it can be roasted, I think this is never successful. Unless you really enjoy eating a rugby ball (both in looks and texture) then I would recommend a long, slow, braise.
So, coming to the heart of the matter… here is how I cook it. I paid just £2.40 for a decent-sized heart which weighed around 700g untrimmed. You have to allow for trimming, and you have to expect the heart to look like a heart. If you're using lamb's hearts reckon one to one-and-half per person. Don’t imagine you will get neatly cut pieces in a polystyrene tray. This is what eating real meat is about, and we all need to accept that our meat is a body part and comes from a real animal.. (rant over…)
Trim away all the tubes and stringy bits from the top third of the heart, leaving yourself the meaty lower part. This is the same for lamb's hearts, by the way. Ox heart tends to be already cut into slices.
Slice this meaty part into thin slices, roughly 15mm thick, and soak this in cold water with a tablespoon of vinegar for around 10 minutes. This will clean out any bits of blood that may have been missed in the butchery.
Whilst the meat is soaking, slice up a couple of onions, some carrots, turnips and swede, and pop all the vegetables in the pressure cooker, or into a flameproof casserole dish if you are cooking this in the oven. Drain the meat and add to the vegetables, mixing well. Add around a pint and a bit of water, some stock powder or a stock cube, a tablespoonful of Lea and Perrins and a good shake of dried thyme. Stir it all up.
If you are using a pressure cooker, bring to high pressure and cook for 45 minutes (an hour for ox heart). If cooking in the oven, bring to the boil, then transfer to the oven and cook for 3-4 (5-6 for ox heart) hours at Gas Mark 3 ( 165 C).
Thicken lightly with flour (depending on how thick you like your gravy around a tablespoon of flour, slake with cold water and add some of the hot stock before mixing into the main part of the stew to avoid lumps) and simmer for a further 15 mins whilst you cook some potatoes and fresh green vegetable of some kind (I used spring greens). Serve in nice deep soup plates with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.
This should feed a not too hungry family of four (two adults and two children) or me and my starving husband…..