Eat to the Beat
Try these local restaurants to find heart dishes you’ll love.
Illustration by Vikki Wiercinski
Maybe you’ve been looking at your love life with your partner and you’ve found date nights have gotten a little boring as of late. With Valentine’s Day coming up, you want to try something adventurous; you want to get your blood pumping in ways you haven’t experienced in years. You want to feed your appetite while trying something different — delicious, but just a little taboo.
We have a solution. Go to the bedroom, pick up the phone, and make a reservation for a restaurant that serves one of the most delectable but rarely tried meats — the heart.
“It’s my favourite cut,” says Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, named one of enRoute Magazine’s Top 10 new restaurants in the country and judged the city's top eatery by Avenue in 2014. RGE RD regularly features its Questionable Bits dish — an “off-cuts” item that changes given what’s come in that week — so it’s no surprise that heart graces the menu from time to time. But a favourite?
“It’s super flavourful. The texture makes you know you have to use your teeth, but done right it’s not chewy. The colour is wonderful and you can cook it in a multitude of different ways,” he says. This can require what Lebsack calls “aggressive marinating,” but the heart’s density means that it absorbs more flavour. Grilled bison heart, duck hearts seared in a cast iron pan, or the staple heart tartare are a number of items that have been featured on RGE RD’s menu with great success.
It takes a lot of skill to properly prepare heart. It’s made up of several layers of cells that are intricately interlaced, crisscrossing overtop of one another in a mesh pattern that can reach up to an inch and a half thick in a cow’s heart. The density makes marinating or tenderizing a must, but there are other challenges when cooking with heart.
Edgar Gutierrez, head chef and co-owner of Mexican taqueria Tres Carnales, found that, while heart is delicious, the organ can be difficult to cook. Heart is incredibly lean, so it dries out faster than cuts containing more fat. And even when perfectly prepared by an experienced chef, there’s one ingredient that’s required that only the customer can provide: A pinch of courage.
Understandably, heart isn’t the easiest sell for those accustomed to chicken breasts or beef patties. “I always include something that people gravitate to,” says Gutierrez. Pairing pork belly with heart or beef with tripe has been one way Gutierrez has helped Edmontonians work up the courage to try something different.
Still not entirely appealing? What if you could try heart that resembled popcorn chicken, down to the taste and texture? Formerly of the Art Gallery of Alberta’s high-end Zinc, Red Seal chef Shane Loiselle brought his fine dining sensibilities to Daravara’s pub food, perfectly summarized in the deep-fried chicken hearts. Each basket contains three and a half ounces of chicken hearts, each cut in half and marinated in buttermilk — a great way to break down the dense meat, says Loiselle — and battered so they stay crisp. Daravara serves between 30 and 40 orders a week, and the dish has separated out Daravara’s kitchen for both its intrigue and novelty.
So this Valentine’s, why not get adventurous? You only need to have a little heart.
• The human heart is not situated on the left of the chest but in the centre. The reason you’ll often see people check the left side of the chest for a pulse is because that is the exit of the main artery, and it’s one of the few areas where the heart is not covered by the lung.
• Before developing into a four-chambered muscle, the heart begins in the fetus as a simple tube, which ties itself into a knot and then creates separate sections with differing functions.
• At full adulthood, the human heart scales in size against the body about one-to-160. As a fetus, it’s one-to-50.