Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Heart of the Matter...

The caribou hunt ended with the crack of the rifle. The shot was pretty close by open country standards, maybe a hair over 100 yards or perhaps a hair under. For an accurate rifle fired from a solid rest it should be a chip shot but the critter didn't react the way I expected. The bull whipped around at impact and drug his off side rear leg with the next step.

That wasn't right.

I reloaded the rifle and placed the bull's shoulder in the crosshairs and pressed the trigger a second time. Upon impact the bull fell into a heap and I made my way to the animal quickly. He was dead, but it was apparent my shooting was not at it's best. Not satisfied with hitting the bull too far back the first time, I did it again from the other side- smashing the liver to paste and exiting the paunch behind the last rib. While fatal, it was not the shot I normally take and wouldn't ever attempt on purpose. Upon beginning the field dressing process the carcass was an impressive wreck internally and I'd lose a significant chunk of meat from the rear quarter where the bullet exited and pulled a lot of matter from the gut with it. What a horror show and I've seen plenty to know.

If there was one bright side to my bout of spectacularly bad shooting, it was that I had, for the first time, a completely intact caribou heart. I've never been a huge fan of eating organ meat other than the occasional piece of liver- I simply don't favor it despite the assured opinion of many of my friends that the heart of game animals is the best part. Historical records and many hunter gatherer societies reserved the heart purely for the hunters and among the Plains Indians the heart was frequently consumed at the kill site. I've always assumed this was for animistic reasons rather than gastric ones and I'd never consumed the heart of an animal I'd taken. When told of my plans, several of my associates turned their noses in disgust. I found that interesting in a society that makes hot dogs and "beef pizza topping".

In days gone by when protein was harder to come by, heart was a rare delicacy on the tables of nearly everyone and recipes for it run from the simple to the fanciful. Now that I was holding this perfect heart in my hands, I decided that it was time to try it. I searched for a recipe to try it with- everything from a simple grilling process that seemed too plain for something as exotic as heart to the sausage stuffed heart with pepper creme sauce- I couldn't even find the ingredients for that one. I consulted my Facebook circle of friends and one name popped up- Marc Taylor. A trained chef, Marine Scout Sniper and an Alaskan hunter of the highest caliber immediately proffered a recipe that was simple but sounded delicious. Not too complicated as to cover up any mysterious flavor heart my offer but not so plain as a piece of meat thrown over fire.

And here it is.

Slice the heart into 1/4" to 3/4" strips and rinse well. Be certain to remove any gristle or hard parts. Butchering the heart is something I'll leave to other authors but I lost enthusiasm for it when I got toward the top part that holds the valves. The lower half was rather easier in this regard.

Soak the pieces in milk overnight of for at least several hours.

Dredge the pieces in well seasoned flour and pan fry in hot oil with onions.
Voila'....GBD- Golden Brown and Delicious!

When finished, brown a little of the flour mixture and then deglaze with broth and make a brown gravy.

Plate and serve immediately either solo or over potatoes. I prefer solo when good, lean protein is on the menu. No need to dilute the plate with simple carbs and starches....

My impressions? Well, I can't say that it had any sort of unusual flavor. It (more or less) tasted exactly like any other piece of caribou muscle fiber I've eaten, which is plenty. What was unusual was the texture. It was very dense with an extremely fine grain. In some ways, very much like liver in that regard although it was a bit tougher and chewier. It was a perfect match for the flavor of a caramelized sweet onion and the saltiness of brown gravy. It was delicious and doesn't deserve the derision many cast upon it. Neither would I elevate it beyond it's true status- far from a delicacy, I'd simply take backstrap or tenderloin any day as would most folks but if you wind up with the odd venison heart there is no need to leave it with the gut pile as it makes for a acceptable and particularly memorable meal.


Phillip said...

Like you, I won't eat liver or most other organs, but the heart is different and I generally try to save it for the table if I can. It's good stuff... although, of course, not nearly as good as a nice tenderloin.

Should Fish More said...

I hunted with my dad and uncles in Oregon in the 50's as a kid. One uncle would take the deer heart, slice it similar to what describe and also fry with onions. They soaked it in salt water vs. milk (hunting camp, no milk).
It was the first time I'd seen cooking meat to just rare. It was tender and delicious. He also cooked the liver, and it was the first time I'd had palatable liver.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


funnily enough I was planning my own heart meal and accompanying blog post.

The last time I got a Fallow heart was when i shot that Doe in Jinx Wood, but as I'm an engine room shooter it was only by the chance of my flinched snap-shoot that i got to take it home. i cooked it low 'n' slow in a bean stew and like you say a very fine grained piece of meat, with a slightly stronger flavour than the less worked muscles.

On my last adventurer the heart was somewhat pulverised by the soft point, but HunterY had taken his fallow Buch with a neck shot and he was kind enough/squeamish enough to give me the heart.

This time I'm intending to cook it sliced as you did, but then set in a jelly reduced from the beasts minor bones and flavoured with marrow from the thigh bones. I'll let you know how I get on.


bengla said...

I have never been one for offal, and as I usually shoot for the heart I rarely think about trying with what's left. But twice last season I did and thoroughly enjoyed it... Or would have done if the kids had let me get more than a taste.
The first was a fine muntjac doe that was neck shot - not out of choice, she was walking towards me and was so close that I was about to lose my chance. She turned her head to the left, so I took the shot. Result, one clean carcass.
A muntjac heart is only two to three inches, so not a big meal! I cleaned it, sliced it and fried off in lots of butter. Lovely.
The second was after a day with the shotgun on varied game I came home with three ducks, a few pheasant and a couple of pigeon. I usually get the kids to help with plucking and drawing. I pulled the guts but left the hearts in for them to pull out. My four year old got her hands inside and pulled them all and wanted to see me cook them, so I couldn't say no. Again I sliced and fried them in butter. They disappeared in seconds... I got one slice! I was surprised how nice it was and will do this again this season.
By the way, just picked up on your blog today and I am really enjoying it.