By Mark Kenyon
Growing up, I ate a decent amount of venison – but for whatever reason, we never ate heart. With that being the case, when I started killing and processing deer for my own home, the heart was just something I never kept. I had no context for what to do with it or if it was even worth trying. But recently I was inspired to change that.
With hopes of finally trying one of the “wobbly bits” of a deer, this past week I killed a mature doe and saved the heart. A few days later, on New Years Eve, we prepared it as an appetizer. Here’s how we made it and what I ultimately thought of my first experience with heart.
With no previous experience dealing with a deer heart, I was a little intimidated. I didn’t know how to trim it, I didn’t know how to prepare it, or cook it or even what to expect when I ate it. But mostly I just really didn’t want to screw it up. Fortunately, with a little instruction, it was a lot easier than I expected.
So the first thing I did was remove the heart from the deer when gutting her and place it in a ziploc bag. When I got home I put the bag in the refrigerator and it stayed there until the night before New Years. At this point I set about trimming the heart up in order to have it ready for a marinade. An article from Outdoor Life (CLICK HERE) with photos really helped me with this trimming process. In short, I just made a cut to open the heart up the middle and then removed all of the valves, flaps, cob-webby looking things and fat. In the end I was left with a couple slabs of meat that basically looked like steaks.
The plan was to try Hank Shaw’s “Grilled Deer Heart with Peppers” recipe, and that began with a simple marinade. So we took ingredients like red wine vinegar, olive oil and worcestershire sauce, mixed it all up in a bowl and poured it over my now trimmed heart “steaks” in a new ziploc bag. I then massaged the marinade into the meat and placed it back in the fridge for 24 hours.
Fast forward to the next night and I chopped up some red and green peppers, coated them with olive oil and salt and threw them on a raging hot grill. After those were nearly done, I put my heart steaks on and cooked them exactly as Hank instructs in his recipe instructions. 5 minutes on one side, 2 minutes on the other.
When the heart was done I removed the steaks and let them rest on a plate, tented with aluminum foil, for five minutes. While waiting on the meat, I re-toasted a small loaf of french bread in the oven and sliced a few thin pieces to pair with the peppers and heart. And finally, when the heart had rested the prescribed amount of time, I sliced one steak into small quarter inch thick pieces.
Finally it was the moment of truth. I grabbed a slice of heart, a piece of bell pepper, and some warm crusty bread. I tentatively shoved it in my mouth and chewed. My eyebrows raised in surprise, my lips curled up into a smile, I enthusiastically nodded my head. My wife just laughed.
It was damn good. I mean really really good. In all honesty, I had low expectations for this one. I hoped it would be bearable, but I didn’t think I’d love it. But I was wrong. The flavor, the texture, the pairing with the peppers and bread – it was all above and beyond my wildest dreams.
I had just prepped and grilled a deer heart and now I was thoroughly enjoying eating it. Realizing all of that felt pretty good.
The heart, in many ways, is more than just a cut of meat. It’s a symbol of life – the beating, pulsing, core of life. And eating this heart, in some small way, seemed like an act of reverence for the life that had been given for this meal.
A very tasty act of reverence.