AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Here's an enthusiastic endorsement of a piece of meat that many will find off-putting, maybe even Edgar Allan Poe-ish.
CHRISTINE CARROLL: I've taken to calling beef heart steak 2.0. It's all the beef flavor at a fraction of the price.
CORNISH: Yes, Christine Carroll is talking about the heart of the cow, a.k.a. beef heart. She's one of the writers behind the new cookbook, "Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation To Staff Meals At The World's Best Restaurants." We thought she and co-author Jody Eddy might have a good tale for our new series, Found Recipes, where we ask for stories about surprising and delicious finds.
For Carroll and Eddy, it was the beef heart dish made by Chef Chris Pandel at his restaurant, The Bristol, in Chicago. Pandel is a big fan of using all parts of an animal, including organ meats as Jody Eddy discovered when she visited his kitchen. Here's how he cooked up the beef heart.
JODY EDDY: He quickly seared it up to golden brown in a smoking hot cast iron pan. After letting the steaks rest a few minutes, Chris thinly sliced them, their ruby interiors glistened as he lined them up on a platter and topped them with a really refreshing summer salad of watermelon, pickled grapes and fat, salty slices of ricotta salada.
It was really a revelation to me. I called Christine to let her know that they served beef heart. I knew she was going to be excited about it.
CARROLL: I'm Christine Carroll, Jody's co-author. I was just giddy. But truthfully, I didn't know where to start. I'd eaten beef heart once before, but never made it at home. So since it's something you don't typically find at the supermarket, I started calling up local farmers. When I went to pick it up, the bag was heavy and bulging and if I didn't know any better, I could have sworn he was handing me a human head.
At home and defrosted, it was no less frightening. Even for me, an ex-line cook, beef heart is chillingly anatomical. But once you get past the gore, you are rewarded with a marvelous protein. As Chef Chris Pandel describes, it's a rough, tough, angry muscle surrounded by clean fats, which means it tastes deeply beefy with the faintest of mineral high notes and a slight chew similar to hangar steak.
So the first time I made the beef heart salad, I had a lot of leftover bits. My son was eight months old and just starting to get adventurous when eating solids, so I decided to slowly poach the beef heart and chicken stock with a little bit of garlic. When it was completely tender, I pureed it into the most mouth-wateringly fragrant silky-smooth beefy baby food you could possibly imagine and my son went bananas for it. He was so smitten with the stuff that I started regularly buying beef heart and he earned the nickname Captain Beef Heart.
EDDY: I told the story of Christine's son to my grandmother in a visit home to Minnesota during the writing of our book. I thought she might recoil at the thought of serving beef heart to a baby. But instead she really surprised me and said, of course he loves it, beef heart is delicious. My grandmother grew up on a farm and I always loved hearing her stories as I so often feel that the things that she did as a child, such as pickling, sausage making, and milking cows, are the same things that some of our most well-respected restaurant chefs are doing today.
In her house growing up, beef heart was considered precious cargo because they rarely slaughtered their milking cows. But when they did, every part of the animal was used. She told me about the recipe that her mother used to prepare, and I asked her if we could make it ourselves as a tribute to her childhood on the farm.
After preparing the heart a very similar manner to the way they did it at The Bristol, she threw in some blueberries and added some freshly grated horseradish on top. And it really was delicious. As we ate, I thought of Christine's young son and was really heartened by the appreciation the new generation seems to have for an ingredient that the matriarch of my family, I discovered, had known about all along.
CORNISH: Jody Eddy and Christine Carroll, authors of the cookbook, "Come In, We're Closed." You can find recipes for beef heart just in time for Halloween on our blog, TheSalt@NPR.org.
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CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.