Get right to the heart of matters, It’s the heart that matters more

Thanks to travelpod for the picture of a Peruvian Heart Skewer server on the streets

Looking to get a bit crazier in the next piece of meat you eat?  Let’s step it up a little bit and get to the blood pumper, the engine that drives the body, the soul of it all: the heart.

A little background first on heart for those ready to head out and eat something better or something you’re more comfortable with. Let’s start with this: you’ve probably eaten heart before without even knowing it. It’s quite possible in your fast food heyday that the taco from Taco Bell had a slight percentage (10-15%) of heart in it. According to Jeff Sindelar, University of Wisconsin meat extension specialist, the company is allowed to use up to 15 percent. And, since it is a cheap meat (because the demand is low), they take advantage.

Next, if you’re from Detroit or have ever had the honor of indulging yourself in any sort of coney dog or items with chili involved from Lafayette Coney Island or American Coney Island, you have had beef heart. Of course, that recipe emerged from the 1910s and 1920s, a time when organ meats were as common as regular ground beef is today.

And of course, if you’re from a place like Peru, beef heart is still commonplace. Peruvian dishes like to use beef heart and not in a way that hides the meat. Beef heart skewers can be found from street vendors and in many restaurants. Even in Madison, Wisconsin a Peruvian restaurant, Inka Heritage has the skewered beef, known as Anticuchos featured on the menu.

So what are the benefits of eating heart (besides being able to say you’ve got a lot of heart- awkward)?

Thanks to Kelly the Kitchen Kop, she helps lay out some of the benefits. These include the obvious heavy concentration of protein, but continue into more in depth benefits like B vitamins often found in offal meats, the much needed phosphorus and zinc, plus a lot of CoQ10- good for a lot of things according to Wikipedia.

Don’t forget the heart is a muscle, and one of the strongest for a body. That means it’s a leaner, less fatty meat.

And for those who don’t trust me, trust local Madison Chef Dan Fox, executive chef at the Madison Club. He says if he was limited to choices of offal meat to use in a meal, heart would be right up there.

“Heart I like to serve. I think that’s a very tasty part of the animal.” He says braising or roasting hearts

He also relayed a story that proves the theory, if you don’t have the mental image of what it is, it might not be so bad…

“We’ve served beef heart and called it beef skewers, I did it on purpose,” Dan told me. “We did the Best of Madison party and I put out very interesting things. One was a marinated beef heart skewer and all the salon stylists were up there like ohh that’s fantastic… Beef heart is very very good, but people just don’t want to try it.”

The best part of the story, Chef Fox never told the guests that they had just tasted beef heart, and probably for the first time. “They can just go on believing what they thought it was.”

And that’s the key for people trying foods they wouldn’t try because of the mental image. If you can trust where you get the meat from and the cook, it usually doesn’t matter what they’re using. And, Chef Dan wouldn’t risk the trust of the people who it his food. By taking a risk of serving beef heart to unsuspecting consumers, he didn’t put them in any danger and was willing to show them a world they never knew.

So you want to try beef heart?  Well, if you can find a Peruvian restaurant nearby they probably present a good opportunity. Or how about cooking it for yourself…

Grilled Beef Heart with Roasted Chili Peppers
Beef Heart, Bacon, Butter and Onion

Beef Heart en Mole

And a whole lot more of them…

Change of Pace: A Look at Seafood

Today we take a little break from the extensive world of meats and focus on the world of seafood. Sadly, there is debate in this world as to if fish is actually a “meat.” For those wondering, it is. The animal is still being killed, the “meat” inside is being used for food, it contains proteins, and it’s still a living breathing being. The biggest debates come from the religious side (I’ll leave that one alone), but because this is a meat blog and I’m writing about it, clearly it’s a meat. So for those who think it’s different, especially vegetarians who try to get around, look in the mirror and realize what you are doing, you monsters.

Anyway, seafood tastes great and comes in a variety forms. But, like all good things there is usually some bad that comes with it. Much of the fish and seafood industry is heading the way of the meat industry and deserves attention as well. Seafood can offer some great products like salmon, swordfish, or the now popular Chilean Sea Bass, as well as crab, shrimp and lobster. There are controversies all over the world about certain items to eat (like the dangers of eating octopus head in South Korea, a very tasty treat by the way), fish that are constantly on the endangered list (like Salmon), and fish farms full of pollution (Thanks ARK fisheries).

First, let’s start with the previously mentioned salmon debate. There are people on both sides of the debate. Pacific and Atlantic salmon are both seen as heavily declining populations. If you’re into the whole trends, data, and maps thing the government has tons of sites set up here for Pacific salmon, a call for a 5- year review from March 2010 with an updated list of salmon species to be looked at, and a nice Atlantic endangerment article from Maine.  According to this report from Canada in October 2010, which includes a video, thinks might not be so dire:

The video, released by Positive Aquaculture Awareness (PAA) entitled “Salmon Extinction? A Reality Check”, uses the direct words of prominent activists who have claimed BC’s wild salmon are at risk of extinction.

“These outrageous quotes of salmon extinction were spread by activists with a clear goal in mind – to damage the reputation of BC salmon farmers,” says PAA President Cory Percevault. “But this year, we have literally millions of examples swimming back to BC rivers, proving just how wrong they were.”

But, why are things endangered?  There are more reasons than just the over-fishing part of fish farming. Diseases and hazardous practices can engulf more salmon species than it should according to the watershed watch.

Also in the Pacific Northwest, a political debate rages on over the Columbia Dam plan in America. This debate has raged on since the Bush administration and people feel Obama hasn’t done enough to change the original, faulty plans.

The 2010 plan assembles new information about climate change but does not offer any ways to help salmon survive the warming water temperatures and changing river flows that are expected, the motion argued. It added that the plan fails to follow the best available scientific information.

While there is both sides of the salmon endangerment concerns all over North America, one place that is safe is Alaska. The industry did take a hit when the world was looking for the cheapest food possible, but this article, from 2004, talks about what the Alaskan salmon industry went through.

Moving on from salmon, let’s take a brief look at the lobster industry. I recently read the book The Secret Life of Lobsters and it gives a pretty detailed account of the industry and the lobster itself. The lobster has also been in a heated population debate over the past quarter century. The book tells the story of how government forces and scientists have tried to enact regulations in the industry despite some data to the contrary. It looks at the fisherman/lobstering perspective, researchers, and government in the middle of this tenuous debate.

As you see, just like the meat industry there are environmental hazards, population debates, methodology debates, and anything else you can think of. Fish aren’t as easy to continue the local movement as water isn’t everywhere. But, there is one benefit of seafood everyone can enjoy. The pleasure of eating. And for those who lasted long enough, I will share some recipes that I’ve never used, but sound fantastic.

I’ve actually had similar variations to this simple recipe of the salmon variety. A nice Salmon with Lemon and Dill.

Salmon too fishy for you?  How about some simple grilled Sea Bass or a nice Tuna Steak

And finally, lobster. Instead of spending $45+ at a restaurant, how bout you make some at your home.