If you or somebody you love enjoys hunting then you know that there’s usually a lot that goes to waste with typical hunting practices. Americans, culturally, tend to be a bit afraid of eating organ meats and other parts of the deer such as entrails or the head. Learning to prepare some of these lesser known bits can keep them from ending up in the trash, reducing waste and increasing the amount of food you’ll get from each life taken.
Of course, I’m in no way suggesting that you ought to jump in head first and learn to enjoy eyeballs on a skewer or anything, but if you’d like to start practicing more sustainable hunting by using more of the actual deer meat, then the heart is a good place to start.
As organs meats go, it’s the least “offal” tasting of the bunch. When you think about it, it’s just a big muscles that runs blood through it. The blood can be removed and the meat can be treated to reduce any residual iron taste (we’ll talk more about that later), and suddenly you’ve got yourself a meal for two that you never would’ve considered before.
Clean and Prepare
The first step is to properly clean the meat and prepare it for cooking. Don’t be too concerned if you’ve never cleaned a heart before–the process is really fairly simple and if you have enough finesse with a knife to filet a fish then you should be more than prepared for the task. If you keep a nice sharp deer hunting knife, part of this work can be done in the field before you bring everything home for cooking.
Before you start cutting into the heart itself, you need to trim the fat off of the outside. Deer hears are very lean, so there should only be a small to moderate amount of fat on the heart, most likely near the top. You don’t need to go nuts trying to get every single bit of fat off of the heart–a bit marbled on the outside will add flavor during cooking. What you’re concerned about is the thick, hardened fat that won’t melt well during the quick cooking process.
It can also be a good idea to submerge the heart in cold water. Once submerged, “pump” the muscle with your hand. This will flush it with fresh water, and help to remove any blood that may remain inside. This can help to tone down the iron taste of the meat after cooking.
Now that you’ve discarded all the fat and rinsed the meat, take a look at the top of the heart. You should notice several large gaps or openings. These will guide you through the process of making a butterfly cut so that you can clean any fibrous tissue from the inside of the heart. If you skip this step, you’ll ruin the tender cut of meat with chewy veins that are not at all pleasant to eat.
Placing your thumbs in the two biggest opening, apply pressure to show the natural separations of the muscle. Use these guides to make a butterfly cut, revealing the inside of the heart. From here you can remove any visible fibrous tissue inside the heart. You may have to make a few more cuts at this stage to remove all the veins.
Finally, cut your meat for cooking. This will depend on how you are planning to cook it, as discussed next.
Popular Cooking Methods
It is surprisingly easy to overcook deer heart. As a result, there are just a handful of tried and tested methods for cooking a deer heart that will give you tender, flavorful meat. You’re welcome to go with other options, but you risk ending up a dish akin to your grandmother’s bland liver and onions.
The first option is roasting. Cooking the meat slowly over a long period, with plenty of broth in the pot. For this option you can feel free to leave the meat in larger pieces, maybe 1 or 2 cutlets.
Another option requires slightly more cutting, into chunks reminiscent of steak tips. If you can keep the meat cold until cooking, searing these pieces over very high heat, just until warm all the way through, is a great way to preserve its flavor and still get a nice char on the outside.
Finally, you can slice it ultra-thin if you want meat that is cooked through. By slicing it so thin you can achieve a medium-well cook without having to keep the meat on heat so long that it loses its flavor.
As you can see, there isn’t as much to cooking deer heart as you might think. When prepared properly, the meat is incredibly tender–some compare it to filet mignon.
I hope this guide has been helpful, and inspired you to try a new dish or two with the parts of the hunt that would’ve normally gone into the trash bin.
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