Didn't think I'd do it, did you?
Perhaps you are aware of the various recipes in the Les Halles Cookbook. Perhaps you own it. Perhaps you thought to yourself "nahh, she'll crap out before she gets to the hardcore stuff."
Perhaps you know what this is, and are blown away by my sheer audacity.
Or perhaps you are clueless and are thinking to yourself "doth my high school French deceive me? Is she cooking a coeur of a porc for REALS?"
The answer? Yes. Pig heart with Armagnac. There are a lot of interesting recipes in the Les Halles Cookbook, including an entire section labeled "Blood and Guts," which involves the cooking of various types of offal, or organ meats. Some of these recipes I know and love, specifically boudin noir (blood sausage) with caramelized apples. Some, however, are very exotic and include kidneys, livers, and in this case, a pig heart. So follow along as I man up to the challenge of my first "Blood and Guts" recipe.
First things first: secure a heart.
Well of course the only place to go is my trusty pork vendor, Cedarbrook Farm. I e-mailed them to ask if they had a heart available, and they responded that they had not one, but TWO, count them, TWO hearts, for $3 each. Can I just say, after the $15 roasted chicken, that this is probably the best bargain in the Les Halles Cookbook so far? I mean, pastured, farm raised organic pig hearts are incredibly freaking cheap. Perhaps because no one in their right mind would willingly put one in their mouths, but THAT IS BESIDE THE POINT. So heart problem solved. I got both, as one heart serves two, and I wanted to have enough for brave Neighbor C, who volunteered to try this potentially delicious and/or nasty dish.
Next, Armagnac. Armagnac is french brandy distilled from white grapes and aged in black oak casks for a minimum of two years. I'd never drunk Armagnac before, but now seems like as good a time as any to try. We have a pretty good liquor store just outside my metro stop (doesn't have awesome things like creme de violette and orgeat syrup, but does have my favorite absinthe and a good wine selection), and they had three types of Armagnac for my choosing. The sales guy told me he'd start me out with "entry level Armagnac," which made me giggle, and of course I chose the one that had a box with a guy sporting a rocking mustache on it.
That night Husband J and I cracked it open, and WOW. I'm normally not a huge brandy or cognac fan, but this Armagnac put both to shame with its smooth texture and delicious flavor, which I won't try to describe here because hello, pretentious liquor critics suck. But it's damn tasty, so if you haven't tried Armagnac, give ol' mustachio a shot, ok?
And next, chicken stock. I used up my last bit of stock in the soupe au pistou, and was looking forward to roasting another chicken and using the bones in another batch of stock. Fate, it seems, thought differently. When I took my nice organic Whole Foods chicken from the fridge and opened its packet, it smelled rank. The damn thing was rotten, and even had a week to go before its "sell by" date! Ugh. I chucked the entire thing, and ordered delivery fish curry.
Sunday morning arrived, and I rolled out of bed to pick up my hearts. The Cedarbrook Farm rep at the stand was very nice, asking me about the dish and wishing me luck. She handed me two nicely vacuum wrapped packets, beautifully labeled.
I headed down to the next meat stand, as they often sell chicken stock... but no such luck, they had none that day. Which is why, though I swore up and down I would use no shortcuts in this project, I am using... shudder... store bought chicken stock. Forgive me Tony, for I have sinned...
Anyway, no more crying over the chicken stock that was not meant to be. Time to roast some garlic.
Coeur de Porc a'lArmagnac requires the making of garlic confit from the "miscellaneous meez" section of the book. Garlic confit is essentially roasted, salted garlic, and is horrifyingly easy to make. Just chuck a bunch of unpeeled garlic cloves onto some aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, salt and add a sprig of thyme, roast at 350 for 30 minutes, and you are set. Makes your house smell awesome to boot. Husband J attacked the confit once it was made, and it was all I could do to save some for the sauce.
I also set up to make roasted fingerling potatoes, salad, and a plum tart with the Italian plums that I found at the market. I figured just in case the heart turns out to be horrible, we'll have something to wash away the taste... and if it's sweet, so much the better.
I know you are all thinking "Okay ENOUGH with the bitching about the chicken, the neurotic back and forth and the freaking garlic! We want to see the money shot, bitch, where is the fucking HEART?"
Here you go:
Mmmm doesn't that look tasty? Look at all those nerves, and veins and... stuff.
While the hearts defrosted in an ice bath, I utilized some leftover back fat (haha, back fat) from the rillettes, rendered it in a sautee pan and sweated some onion and herbs until soft.
Then I trimmed the fat from the top of the hearts, and stuffed them with the onion mixture.
Well maybe not stuffed. The recipe calls for stuffing the ventricles with the onion mixture (pleasant thought, I know), but the hearts I have obtained are split down the middle, presumably for easier cooking. That's great, but now I have not much space for stuffing. I settled on stuffing what I could, and ladling the rest over the hearts to cover. Into the oven they went for 20 minutes (double the time for one heart).
I opened the oven once to check on their progress, and the smell that wafted out was, well, good. It smelled rich and meaty and hearty. It smelled like a good boudin noir smells.
After the hearts were cooked I covered them with foil to rest while I made the sauce. This part is a little dicey, as it involves cooking down the Armagnac in a pan over a gas flame. "The Armagnac will probably flame up," says Tony, "so watch out." Oh my god. I should note here that I'd already set off the smoke alarm with my roasted potatoes (remember why you never roast potatoes any more? Because that always happens.) I had visions of flames licking the kitchen ceiling. I called Husband J into the kitchen. "I'm going to need you to stand by with the fire extinguisher," I said.
"Are you kidding?" he asked, incredulous.
"Do I look like I'm kidding?" I shot back. He trotted off to get the fire extinguisher.
I heated the shot of Armagnac in the pan. Here my bravery gave out, and I controlled the temperature so that it reduced but did not flame up. Then I poured in the *shudder* store bought stock, reduced some more, and then stirred in the pan drippings from the hearts. The garlic confit went in next, as well as a hefty knob of butter. I may have reached a saturated fat event horizon with this sauce.
Finally, with the sauce made, I sliced the hearts very thinly until they resembled nothing so much as a nice fillet, instead of a scarily shaped organ. At this point, I decided to be brave again, so I grabbed a slice and popped it in my mouth. Husband J watched with wide eyes. "How is it?" he asked.
I chewed. "It tastes like... roast beef!"
And it did. Exactly like roast beef. With a little bit of a chewy texture, and an undertaste that signaled the organ-ness of the meat, but otherwise you could put it on a sandwich with mayo and provolone and never tell the difference.
Over the slices went the sauce, and we trucked our dishes over to Neighbor C's for a double feature of trashy reality TV: TA2 and "My Antonio". Between the three of us we cleaned up the potatoes and most of the heart, and demolished a good two thirds of the plum tart, which was the favorite of everyone involved (thanks, Oprah!). But everyone went for seconds on the heart, which made me incredibly happy. Another success.
So, would I make it again? Well, honestly, probably not. It was a good dish, but more rich than I like my food (and that's before the butter sauce), and the special ordering of the heart tends to be something I'd rather forego. But I'm glad I made it and glad I ate it, as I'm well on my way to true culinary badassery.
Lessons learned: Just because "offal" and "awful" are homonyms does not mean they should be conflated. Heart tastes good, like roast beef, but slice it thin anyway so it doesn't look like you're gnawing on a big nasty organ. Armagnac is delicious to drink and to cook with, just make sure you don't start fires. Never roast potatoes, ever. Sauce is always better with roasted garlic and butter. Sometimes even the best of plans fall through and you have to use nasty store bought stock.
Next Week: Break time. I have a packed Sunday that involves other people cooking for me, so although I might consider doing a small dish or appetizer, it's more likely I'll take a break and return on October 4 with something new and delicious. Stay tuned, please!