Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Heart Cheesesteak (w/bone marrow “whiz”)

Early in my posting days, I undertook an ambitious attempt at pan cooked beef heart and crispy fried bone marrow.  The marrow came out great, the beef heart less so.  I think the heart’s subpar flavor and texture was due to my organ cooking inexperience, my lack of butchering skills (not that I am Sam from the Brady Bunch now), and generally that what I made was poorly thought out.  I cooked the heart for way too long, in a heavy sauce, and served it over watery greens instead of a starch of some sort.  In 90 degree weather.  Live and learn, but I definitely intended to take another crack at it somewhere down the road.

Three years later and I’m still working my way through the massive amount of organ meat stored in my chest freezer.  So, when faced with a little food boredom last week, I pulled a half beef heart out of the freezer to defrost.  It was the second half (I think) of the heart from Uncle Billy’s Crazy Cooler of Destiny and it had held up pretty well due to the vacuum sealed freezer bag.

Beef hearts are effing enormous. That's a 7" chefs knife behind it.  And, yes, all that crazy crap you see was very intimidating

Beef hearts are effing enormous.  That’s a 7″ chefs knife behind it.  And, yes, all that crazy crap you see is the most intimidating part of working with animal hearts.  In other news, I didn’t do too good in Biology and I’m pretty sure “crazy crap” is the closest I could come to a medical term to describe what you are seeing

That’s about two and a half pounds of muscle covered by a lot of silverskin and some hardened fat on the outside.  Plus the stuff on the inside that I can’t use my words on.  My plan was to trim off all of the external membrane/fat and any of the funky stuff in the internal chambers.  Once fully trimmed, I expected it to look like a normal (but extremely lean) chunk of meat that I would slice thin to make a cheesesteak from.

A 'lil bit into the process.  The exterior trimming was a bit rough since I was erring on the side of too much trimming.  The piece on th right is one of the chamber pieces I pulled out and the bottom slices were the start of the thin slicing

A ‘lil bit into the process.  The exterior trimming was a bit rough since I was erring on the side of too much trimming which left me with what looked like a bloody Lego.  The piece on the right is one of the chamber pieces I pulled out and the bottom slivers were the start of the thin slicing

Due to the density of the muscle, the meat was easy to slice thin using the same method as slicing gravlax; press the side of the knife against the meat and shave.  As I got toward the center, it became more difficult to keep the pieces thin so I switched to the other side and sliced until I got to the same point.  The center area I ended up cutting into thicker slabs for later use on the grill.  After slicing was complete, I had this.

Thins sliced is bottom right, thicker stuff is top left, bowl is the trimmings and the remaining meat left to slice is bottom left.  Oh, and partially visible is the dinosaur placemat that we bought at a friend's garage sale and Janet insists identifying all dinosaurs as "Mommys" or "Daddys"

Thins sliced is bottom right, thicker stuff is top left, bowl is the trimmings, and the remaining meat left to slice is bottom left. Oh, and partially visible is the dinosaur placemat that we bought at a friend’s garage sale and Janet insists identifying all dinosaurs as “Mommys” or “Daddys”

With the meat sliced, I placed the thicker pieces in a marinade of miso and a few other ingredients to marinate for a day or so before grilling.  The thin slices went into a separate bag to rest and await cooking in the fridge.

In my opinion, a true Philly Cheesesteak can only use one cheese or cheese like product: Cheez Whiz.  It’s highly processed, probably doesn’t include any dairy, and keeps at room temperature in a jar for years, but good golly does it taste delicious.  The tangy flavor goes so well with fatty beef.  For the purposes of this meal, my ambitious plan for a homage to “whiz” was to use a piece of beef bone marrow instead of butter in a roux, then build a cheese sauce from there.  I got started by putting a piece of marrow in a 450F oven to roast and break down.

Pre-oven.  I keep sticks of marrow like this individually wrapped in my freezer.  Search marrow for info on how to pop them out of their bones and save

Pre-oven.  I keep sticks of marrow like this individually wrapped in my freezer.  Look at the Heart and Bones post linked earlier for info on how to pop them out of their bones and save them in the freezer.  You know, for when you need marrow and stuff

While the marrow roasted, I pulled some cheese curds out of the fridge which would be the primary cheese-type ingredient in the cheese sauce.  The curds were maybe slightly past their prime, but given the mild and slightly tangy flavor of cheese curds I thought they would be perfect for my tribute to Cheez Whiz.

These had been transported via cooler multiple times and had formed a solid block.  I love cheese curds and wished they weren't made even more delicious by frying or serving with gravy so I could eat them more often

These had been transported via cooler multiple times and had formed into a mashed together solid block.  I love cheese curds and wished they weren’t made even more delicious by frying or serving with gravy so I could eat them more often.  Also, it’s kind of amazing I’ve been doing this three years and this is my first loving homage to processed cheese, right?

I cut the cheese curds up into thin batons that looked similar to a grated bag of Kraft cheddar, then moved the now broken down roasted marrow to the stovetop.

All it takes to get to this point is a little pressure from the whisk.  The smell is melting candle-esque, and I added to that lovely aroma by grabbing the handle out of the 450F oven bare handed by accident

About halfway through roasting, you need to break up the marrow with a fork which lets any remaining fat render and the other pieces crisp a bit.  The smell is melting candle-esque, and I added to that lovely aroma by grabbing the pot handle bare handed out of the 450F oven and getting a nice sear on my palm

With the fat fully liquified, I started out the roux by whisking in a little over a tablespoon of flour and cooking it on the stovetop until it started to brown a bit.

The solid bits from the marrow were still relatively solid at this point but started to fall apart

I have no understanding of bone marrow as a cooking ingredient, I just know I like the flavor and it makes sauces better.  I thought it was all fat, but also have heard something (likely nonsense) about how it’s actually a degenerated protein and not as bad for you as fat.  I certainly am unqualified to explain what the crispy chunks are vs the rendered marrow fat

With the roux cooking, I pulled the thin sliced heart meat out of the refrigerator and drained the excess blood from the bag.  The meat headed to a pile of paper towels seasoned with salt and pepper to leach out a bit more of the bloody liquid and hopefully reduce the iron-y flavor of the heart.

At this point I am positive that just looks like meat, very lean meat, but still meat.  The only thing that would prevent you from trying this is watching me cook it (or reading this)

At this point I am positive that just looks like meat. Very lean meat, but still meat.  The only thing that would prevent you from trying the cooked version of this is watching me cook it (or reading this)

While the heart meat drained, I began adding milk to the roux to form the based of the cheese sauce.  Once enough milk was added to thin the base to the consistency of gravy, I started to whisk in the cheese curds.

Cheese Curds are at their most questionable at this point since they don't melt nearly as well as cheddar or processed cheese.  So they took a little longer, but eventually I had this...

This is the point I heavily questioned my own need to use everything in the fridge since cheese curds don’t melt nearly as well as cheddar or processed cheese.  I berated myself loudly as these took slightly longer to melt than I expected then calmed down when they melted.  Eventually I had this…

...Relatively silky and decent looking cheese sauce.  Not cheese whiz, but it's made out of marrow for cripes sake

…Relatively silky and decent looking cheese sauce.  Not Whiz, but it’s made out of bone marrow for cripes sake

With the sauce bubbling on the stove, I heated a large cast iron skillet over medium/high heat and melted a tablespoon of butter.  Once the butter was melted and bubbling, I added the heart meat and half of a sliced white onion.

This is the start of a series of photos that look just like a normal cheesesteak

This is the start of a series of photos that look just like a normal cheesesteak

After a few minutes of browning, I gave my best attempt at the Philly tactic of using two metal spatulas to chop and tear the meat to shreds using the sides of the spatulas.  Mostly I just ended up making a lot of noise and sort of tearing a few pieces into slightly smaller pieces.

This was a big pan and it looked like a ton of meat in the pan at the time too, but it was barely enough for one sandwich amazingly

This was a big pan and it looked like a ton of meat at the time, but it was barely enough for one sandwich, amazingly

With the meat fully cooked, I piled it high in the closest thing I could find to the excellent crusty sub rolls from Sarcone’s or Amaroso’s that they use all over Philly.  It was not as close a match as I’d hoped and I knew it would be an exhausting sandwich to eat due to the chewiness of the bread.

I could babble about this for hours, but the perfect cheesesteak roll is chewy, soft, crispy, and slightly sour.  You usually get two of the first three adjectives but all three is what makes them great

I could babble about this for hours, but the perfect cheesesteak roll is chewy, soft, crispy, and slightly sour.  You usually get two of the first three adjectives but all three is what separates a great sandwich from the rest.  This was chewy and crispy but not soft

Once the sandwich was loaded up, I put a few large spoonfuls of the marrow whiz over the top of the meat making sure it had enough to soak into the bread.  Then squeezed it closed holding the meat in, cut in half, and did some more squeezing to make sure I could fit it into my mouth for a bite.

Good and messy, would have been better with some mushrooms in there too

Good and messy, would have been better with some mushrooms in there too

I ended up eating this whole thing and enjoying it, but you could definitely tell this wasn’t a traditional cheesesteak.  The meat was thin enough to easily bite through, though a little chewier than a normal cheesesteak.  Usually the meat is chewy, but in a cheap shaved meat way, whereas heart meat has a more rubbery consistency since the grain is so tight and there is no fat to break it up.  The flavor wasn’t too far off from normal steak though a little more iron-y, but the onions covered that up well.  The marrow cheese sauce had a ton of flavor and you could tell there was bone marrow in the mix.  Would have been better if I used cheddar and gruyere instead of curds I think, since it would have been sharper and complemented the marrow better.

All in all, a much more successful experiment and something I wouldn’t mind tinkering with again.  The grilled marinated pieces I cooked later in the week weren’t quite as enjoyable since they were just like metallic beef jerky due to dryness.  Here’s a picture for proof, no need to expound on it further, just didn’t want to ignore that this happened.

I thought the three days in the marinade would soften it, but nope,  I got mineral jerky from this part

I thought the three days in the marinade would soften it, but nope, I got mineral jerky from this.  Had to sneak it in here or it would have ended up in a Major Dag post

Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Beef Fry Marsala

Ah, yes, balls have returned to The Pete Is On, didn’t you miss them??  I wish I didn’t have to post about this again so soon but I did an awful job of cooking interesting stuff these past two weeks.  Some ribs, some chili and soups, but nothing even mildly creative that would merit a post.  Oh well, I’ll make something foul this weekend hopefully.

Anyhoo, A few weeks ago after cooking the Rocky Mountain Oysters, I had a a little extra ball meat left over the next day.  That expressions is like the awful gift that keeps giving.

If I hadn’t already dropped thousands of hints and explicit statements I could have told you that these were scallops.   Probably would help the nausea cause if I gave the cutting board a wipedown before taking this picture

Given my hatred of deep frying things in my own home, I elected to take a different approach to cooking the beef scallops.  Based on my recent discovery that the flavor is similar to chicken livers and the consistency is a little soft, I figured I could eat them on some crunchy bread with a sturdy sauce.  Pretty sure Ma Ryan didn’t expect to ever see this use for her Marsala recipe when she gave it to me.

As with the veal and chicken cutlets Ma Ryan intended her recipe for, it all starts with a heavy dusting of flour, salt and black pepper.

Little more than a dusting, but any extra flour avoids the need to add some later to thicken the sauce.  I should probably make this with chicken sometime soon and post it so that I honor the wonderful simplicity of this recipe

While coating those, I heated a few tablespoons of butter over medium heat on the stovetop.  Once the butter was fully melted and bubbling I added the floured beef scallops to the pan.

While I was cooking it I was thinking the same thing I am thinking now, “I hope that little naturally formed shotglass of liquid drains off when I flip them”.  Also, how we all liking “beef scallops”?  I’m sticking with it, much less painful to type repeatedly

Although the sauce would eventually eliminate any crispiness from the butter frying, I was still hoping to get some nice golden color on the outside.  Easier said than done since these things were pushing out a lot of liquid.  Eventually I got somewhere, I guess.

Tasty golden fried balls.  They seem to be nearly impossible to overcook which is definitely in their favor since nobody wants an undercooked ball

After another 5-10 minutes of pan frying the coating had crisped a bit and I removed the beef scallops to a pile of paper towels to drain.  The heat on the pan went down to low-medium heat and I whisked the flour from the bottom of the pan into the remaining butter and a little extra olive oil.

Little bit of brownin’ flour isn’t a bad start for a sauce.  Well, except when it was previously coating balls

At one point in time I remember frantically reading the recipe word doc my mother gave me, and measuring out the portions of Marsala wine and whole milk to get the sauce right.  I’m past that.  Who knows if the sauce is worse because of it, but I enjoy not having to look stuff up.  For the sauce, I like a ratio of about half Marsala, half milk, alternating between the two as you whisk it into the roux-like substance in the pan.  Post whisking, plus a little simmer time, I had a decent sauce for the beef scallops.

The overzealous flour coating made this sauce a little chunky and unwieldly, but it still tasted and smelled perfect for a Marsala

with the sauce thickened, the scallops went back in to simmer for a bit, just as I would with veal or chicken cutlets.  Not sure how much it does for the flavor, but it definitely gets everything well sauced.  I like to add sauteed mushrooms at this point too but didn’t have any to use.

Not sure why, but I think  anyone with even a moderate knowledge of food would look at this picture and say it was suspect.  Just looks a little off

After a few minutes of simmering, I piled the meat onto a few slices of toasted baguette with multiple spoonfuls of sauce to smother and make solidly messy plate of grub.  I made it messier with a handful of grated parm over the top.  My only regret is the stupidity of how I sliced and toasted the bread which made it impossible to eat by hand.  For some reason I cut wedges instead of flat rounds, so stupid.

‘Lil sprinkle is rarely an accurate assessment of what I engage in with cheese.  All pastas, red sauces, pizzas, and anything broadly referenced as Itallian food gets a heafty pile of cheese in the Ryan household

Marsala plus cheese is rarely a miss from a flavor perspective.  I say that recognizing that I was consuming bull testicles, but really they were quite tasty and far less terrifying than you would think.

Again, white meat.  Like a Marsala chicken tender, except made from sexin organs.  Yuck

Marsala is a perfect compliment to the flavor of the beef scallops; it hides some of the more unpleasant offal flavors but matches well with the poultry-ish flavors.  What was left was a tasty combination of beef and chicken flavors with Marsala sauce. The crusty bread was nice just because the soft meat definitely needs some contrasting crunch so you aren’t eating just a pile of somewhat mushy food.  Overall, a pretty decent meal that I enjoyed eating, though I am good with taking some time off before I purchase my next set ‘o balls.

Here this weekend, will be cooking I promise.

Weird Crap I Cook: Rocky Mountain Oysters

Really, really wanted to name this one “Pete’s Balls”.  That decision is not indicative of the maturity I approached the whole post with, but it was a dece start.

As many of you already know, “Rocky Mountain Oysters” is the deceptive nickname for bull or calf testicles.  Huevos, Criadillas, Bull Fries… doesn’t really matter what you call them, they are still cooked bull’s balls.  Now that we’ve made that clear I’ll give a photo of something else and a brief aside to give anyone not interested in seeing this whole thing go down a chance to leave.

One of these mason jars is from our wedding, no idea which one.  Eventually it will totally get lost in our huge collection of mason jars and end up being used to pickle pigeon eggs or some crap.  You had a good run, wedding mason jar

Big week for the Ryan’s, one I’ve been waiting for patiently for 4 years; Switchback is now available in bottles!  Kristi and I have both loved Switchback since we first tasted it and chose to serve it at our wedding in mason jars.  Up until this week, it was only available in kegs, but our long national (national for my universe) nightmare is over.  Congrats to Gretchen and the rest of the crew at Switchback, pencil me in for a 12 pack every time I visit VT.

Anyhoo, back to them sex organs.  I’ve wanted to try Rocky Mountain Oysters for a long time but I’ve honestly never come across them in all of my travels or market shopping.  Kinda gross that testicles were on my food bucket list, but I’ve never claimed to be normal.  In late August, while exiting the St. Anthony festival in Boston’s North End I ducked into a halal butcher shop and spotted my culinary holy grail.

Terrifying, absolutely terrifying.  It was much easier to assume I would order them one day than actually purchasing them and knowing A) I would have to eat them because I hate wasting food and B) I’d have to prepare them

Sunday is never a good day for produce buying, and generally the halal butcher shops by the Haymarket smell a little funky, which all added up to this package smelling a little ripe.  From my Philly Italian Market experience I knew that half the battle would be getting them out of the packaging and rinsed, so that’s what I did.

So, uh, you guys wanna talk about something else?  Goddamn those veins are awful

Since it was a Sunday night, I was stuffed on arancini, and generally exhausted, I decided to vacuum seal the bag and freeze them for use at a later date.

Phew that’s a little better.  Let’s just say that I didn’t feel the need to use the labeling area on the outside of the package; these would be pretty easy to recognize

And into the chest freezer they went for a couple months.  I was a little scared of them, due to the ripeness mentioned previously, but knew that my curiosity would get the best of me at some point.  That point was this week when Kristi headed to Vermont for a couple nights and I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with horrified looks from her during the prep process.

After thawing, I rinsed thoroughly, and moved to a plastic cutting board to peel them, a process I had done absolutely no research on..

This wasn’t the first one I peeled.  That one was the ugliest looking of the batch from the outside and I couldn’t bring myself to post it.  Restraint!  Restraint is a new thing on this blog

I had my knives good and sharp for this process since the first cut is surface level and basically opens the ball (god I wish I could come up with a better term).  Then you remove the contents from the outer layer.  The inside is a yellowish/tan color and in no way resembles the outside.

Back to that first one.  For once my fingers aren’t the most unattractive thing in a picture

I will call it like it is here: I exercised awful instincts and did a terrible job on the first peeling.  I treated it like deboning a chicken or something and made tons of tiny cuts to separate it from the skin.  Ended up losing a fair amount of (questionably) edible material and generally it looked like sh*t at the end.

Looks kinda like chicken but that ain’t chicken.  Really awful job by me on this one

After standing there for a few minutes confounded by how this could be so difficult, I eventually decided to give this another shot by essentially trying to turn the next ball inside out.  Welp, turns out it was as easy as that, no knife required after the first cut.

Like it’s peeking around a corner to say hi to you.  Oh heeeyyyyy there little teste.  I should just accept that I am not going to be able to make this adorable

And with that realization, I was able to get through the remaining three in just a few minutes.  After removing from the skin, I sliced each ball into four 1/2 inch rounds that looked extremely similar to sea scallops before placing them into an iced saltwater bath.

That water clouded up quick.  In general, with any kind of organ meat or offal, I like it when the pre-cooking bath gets a little cloudy or changes color because it means I won’t be ingesting whatever caused it to do so

I let those pieces soak for about an hour to draw out as much funkiness as possible.

My plan was to go traditional with the prep and use about half of the ball meat.  Good god that sounds awful.  The other half would be used another night and help fill my bare cupboards of reserve post cupboards.  So, I started heating a few inches of vegetable oil on the stove top in ‘Lil Blue and set up a breading station.

Again, the scallop analogy works very well here, or at least compared to all the other subpar analogies I make on this blog

The breading mixture was half flour/half corn meal, with lots of salt, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder mixed in for flavor.  The beef scallops (ooh, that works) went from the bath, to the egg mixture, then into the breading and onto the wax paper to wait for the oil to come up to heat.

I despise frying stuff due to the smell and general fear of getting burned.  Every door in the apartment was closed and the windows were all open to deal with the smell, but the fear of the hot oil was more difficult.  I ended up choosing to fry between 325 and 350 instead of the usual 375 for vegetable oil since I had no interest in the bubbling splatters.

I mean, still plenty terrifying.  That item in my left hand is a bacon screen which I used to further reduce the splatter risk along with oven mitts on both hands.  Not shown is my Kevlar suit and football helmet.  Hot oil gives me nightmares, yo

After 8-10 minutes in the oil, the “oysters” had taken on a nice golden brown color and you could tell the coating would have a good crunch.  I removed them from the oil one by one and transferred to a pile of paper towels to drain.

Breading and frying makes pretty much anything look completely innocuous.  I might try this with my face during Movember to compensate for my sure-to-be-awful mustache

I spent a few minutes staring at them, letting them cool and seriously contemplating whether I should make a sauce (a caper-y aioli sounded good).  Since the smell and look of the Rocky Mountain Oysters was pretty appealing, there wasn’t nearly as much anxious fear as I expected at that moment.  Eventually, I just put a couple drops of cholula on one of them and took a bite.

I love Chicken McNuggets, but it’s gotta say something negative about a food when it closely resembles a fried bull testicle

Gotta say, Rocky Mountain Oysters are pretty dece.  The flavor is waayyyy less fierce than you would expect, like a very mild fried chicken liver but with the occasional hint of kidney flavor that reminds you that you are eating offal.  The texture is also most similar to a soft chicken liver.  Not at all the unpleasant eating experience that the rotten gym-towel-bin aroma from the original packaging led me to expect.  I ended up eating most of these and then cooking the remaining ball meat (that has become no less awful) the following night, but that will be documented another time.  All in all, a good meal and very glad I finally got to cook and sample bull testicles.

Thanks to Brendan for the new, hopefully less offensive blog header.  That one is here to stay I think.  Got a solid idea for next week’s post, which I plan to get out before Friday for once.

Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Heart Pastrami

Aside from my Best of Philly post, I generally avoid giving any kind of restaurant reviews on this blog.  There are 200,000 active restaurant blogs with over 95% of them located in the 25 biggest cities in the U.S.  Pretty crazy right?  Well, I made most of that up but I’m guessing it’s relatively accurate, and what I am trying to say is that area of blogging is pretty well covered.  Who needs another blog that tries to sound like Bourdain while they give the millionth opinion posted online of a Best of Boston restaurant’s seared scallops.  I’ll save you some time: they tasted good and were cooked well.

Anyhoo, instead of giving you a thousand words on Coppa Enoteca in Boston (hint: stuff tasted good and was cooked well), I decided to attempt making one of their salumi offerings at home.  For those outside Boston, Coppa does Italian dishes using all parts of animals from land and sea, particularly some of the more interesting and challenging cuts. Awful one sentence encapsulation, but I think it gives you the general idea.  Check out the menu at the link above if you want more details.

One of their salumi items is a medium rare ox heart that they slice thin and serve like prosciutto.  It was flavorful, tender, and had none of the bloody flavor I generally associate with heart.  I had to ask some nerdy questions (while Kristi tried to crawl under the bar to hide) and the manager walked me through the simple-sounding process; rub with pastrami spices, roast in a wood fired oven, chill, and slice thin.  With all the beef, lamb, and goat hearts in my freezer, I knew I would have to give this approach a shot.  Seven days, later this bad boy was sitting on my counter, courtesy of

Movies like Children of the Corn and The Wrestler give these things a bad rep.  In reality, it’s just a dangerously sharp spinning blade designed to quickly cut through meat that you hold in your hand while pressing the meat into the blade and moving your hand rapidly back and forth.  Janet will be operating it in no time!

Plan was to trim the heart, rub with pastrami spice, roast wrapped under low heat, rest, roast open under high heat, cool and slice.  The goal of the wrapped roasting was to get some additional flavor that wouldn’t be possible in a conventional oven vs. a wood fired one.

After a couple days of thawing, half of the heart from the Uncle Billy Offal Haul of 2012 was ready for prep.  Given how large the half heart was, I was pretty happy I had decided to cut it in half before freezing.

I heard they used to tape newspaper over the windows of Howard Stern’s studio to avoid upsetting other radio program hosts from what went on inside.  I am considering doing the same for one of our crisper drawers since Kristi doesn’t react well to the views of various offal thawing through the clear drawer-front

After removing from the package I gave a good rinse and patted dry before transferring to the cutting board.  Although the folks at Coppa said that they minimally trim the heart before cooking, I wanted to get rid of some of the funkier tendons and ventricles and make a few strategic cuts so it lays out flat.

Heart is one of those cuts that looks “offal” (wokka wokka) when raw, but is indistinguishable from flank steak or any other cut of beef that has minimal intramuscular fat when cooked properly.  You may not be, but I’m excited to see what I can do with the much smaller lamb and goat hearts from Snow Farm

After a few minutes of trimming out ventricles and some of the hardened pieces of exterior fat, I made two bigger cuts to allow the meat to roll out flat.

And now for the most overdone euphemism on this site that you knew was coming: looks just like regular beef, right?

For the rub, I referenced a few sites for pastrami rub recipes and the ratios of coriander to black pepper were relatively consistent so I went with the mix of other spices that sounded best.  Final combo was a couple tablespoons of both ground coriander and black pepper plus a tablespoon each of paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper.  Normally pastrami rub coats a salty brined corned beef, so for this prep I added a couple tablespoons of coarse kosher salt as well.

This was enough for two or three pieces of meat the size of the trimmed heart, so the rest is in a jar in our spice cabinet.  As an aside, I never understood why our parents had cabinets full of old glass jars from jams and sauces.  Now I’ve got a kid and find myself bringing salad dressing to work in rinsed baby food jars and putting pastrami rub in jelly jars.  Happens so quickly you don’t even notice it

The heart got a light coating of liquid smoke (not 100% on this ingredient in general yet) and then was packed completely in the rub so that no meat was exposed.  This is generally my approach when applying rub to a piece of meat, but I particularly overdid it this time since that’s what you expect with pastrami.

Whenever I attempt something new like this, there is always a point in the process when I either start getting nervous that it won’t be coming out well or know that I got something good on my hands.  This was the latter moment, mainly because of how completely innocuous it looked and also smelled decent

The heart was tightly wrapped in a few layers of aluminum foil and went into a 200F oven for an hour and a half.  The goal was to get the flavors from the rub into the meat and also set the coating in the process.  While it cooked, I accused Brother John of buying me a low quality power washer (I had it assembled wrong), did an awful job power washing my stairs, and generally ruined what would have been a beautiful day outside for my neighbors.

When the timer went off, I pulled the heart out of the oven and was amazed to see that it had shrunk by 1/4 to 1/3 during cooking.  I kept it wrapped since all of the juices were still held inside the foil and let it cool for a few hours on the counter before putting it in the fridge overnight.  The next day, I unwrapped the foil to check it out.

Smelled just like pastrami, even Kristi thought so, though she conveyed that with the immediate clarification that she wouldn’t be trying it despite the pleasant smell.  Friggin’ jerk mother of my child and patient wife, I’ll show her

The slow roasting process baked in the flavor, but the time in the fridge truly set the rub even though it was still damp.  That being said, I was nervous the meat might have cooked more than I wanted it to and wondered if I might have been better off letting it sit in the rub overnight and skipping the initial low heat cooking.  While thinking about this and staring at the meat like a zombie for 10 minutes, the oven preheated to 450F.

Once the oven was up to temperature, the heart went onto a baking sheet to cook on the top rack for 20 minutes, which left me with this:

Nothing I wanted to do more than cut into this and see if it tasted as good as it looked/smelled, but knew I needed to let it cool to fridge temp to make slicing easier

The crust had hardened all around so it wouldn’t completely fall off during slicing.  But, sigh, I once again had to play the waiting game while the heart pastrami cooled in the fridge for 5-6 hours.

With the pastrami cooled, it went onto the deli slicer, which I was excited to use after a test run a few nights earlier with a cooked chicken breast.  The meat went onto the handy sliding shelf and the blade was adjusted to about as thin as I could make the meat without cutting inconsistently.

I was twitching and pacing the kitchen nervously wanting to make sure I chose the right direction to slice properly against the grain. Still don’t know if I did it correctly

I had a few test slices right away since I had been waiting about 36 hours at that point to taste what I was making.  The flavor was like a cross between roast beef and pastrami and had a solid spicy kick from all of the pepper.  The slices were tender and relatively moist for a pretty dry cut due to how thin they were.  After slicing around a third of the pastrami I finally had the technique down and was getting some consistently good thin slices

There is a guard so you don’t have to hold the meat on the slicer but it’s a little clumsy. So, you know, it makes sense for its clumsy user to operate it barehanded

Gotta stop using the Increasingly Awful Point and Shoot camera since it’s consistently blurry when trying to capture motion, especially in low light and while the flash fixes that, it makes food look like plastic kids toys

Not sandwich sized or anything, but pretty diesel

With each pass of the slicer, I was hoping the meat would be a little pinker in color toward the center, but I never found it.  My original goal was to cook it to about medium but I missed the mark, confirming my fears about overcooking it.  However, because the initial cooking was over low heat, the juices were still locked in and the meat wasn’t too dry.  Best served with a little toast and mustard.

Not sure why I serve every headcheese and salumi I make like this, but it is generally a winning combination. It’s also what I have in the fridge

All-in-all, it came out pretty well and I have another half ox heart in the freezer to make a second attempt at some point in the near future.  Might need to get some more details on the roasting process at Coppa next time I visit, but I think a few small tweaks will improve an overall decent dish greatly.

And with that, the queue is empty, but I gots some ideas for this weekend.  Also, mildly uninneresting note, I wrote this whole thing while on a flight to Las Vegas for work.  Surprisingly efficient use of time.

Might be a rebranding of this page coming soon, getting a little sick of the DB angle.

Foraging For Food: The Meat Processor’s Floor

“Meat Processor” sounds nicer than slaughterhouse, right?  Welp, that’s my one concession in this blog.  I am going to be discussing and showing parts of the cow that don’t make it into your average meat case.  In fact, I think a lot of the time they end up on the slaughterhouse floor and incorporated into pet food or the most discussed food topic of the day, pink slime.

I’m not planning to show anything graphic from the process of killing a cow or anything, but there will be a lot of organs.  I won’t take offense if you scroll down to this picture of Janet proudly standing on her own, smile, exhale, and close this window to read no further.

Her hair isn't as red as it looks here, more blonde. The profile is a little too much like mine, though. Let's hope she grows out of that one soon

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Uncle Billy continued his run as the most underrated ADB blog contributor by leaving me a cooler full of miscellaneous meat in Vermont.  The back story was that Billy had raised a cow with a friend and eventually split up the meat.  He let me know there would be plenty of cuts they wouldn’t be interested in and he’d be happy to save for me.

A couple weeks before the planned slaughter, Billy and I exchanged a few emails regarding what I would like saved.  In those emails I’m pretty sure I sounded like a budding serial killer, but Billy was patient with my endless questions and saved me a bunch of my requests.  Leading to a pickup of this cooler a few days after the cow met its end.

Over the course of writing this blog, I haven't had that many moments where I truly questioned what I was doing. However, when I opened this cooler on the back porch at Kristi's grandmother's house, I couldn't help but mutter "what the f*ck is WRONG with me?!?" aloud as I nervously chuckled and shook my head

That right there is a bunch of organs and unusual cuts from a grass fed cow, stuffed into trash bags and thrown in a cooler.  I’d imagine it took a lot of unnecessary effort to butcher the cuts I ended up with, especially since they were for someone else, so big thanks to Billy and his buddy for doing so.

After hanging with our friends Tara and Nancy until late on Sunday night after picking up the cooler, I realized I needed to get this stuff cleaned, trimmed, vacuum sealed, and in the freezer before it spoiled.  I prepped accordingly.

That cleaver gets used pretty rarely and is only partially effective when it is. Those towels underneath are still showing the battle scars and stains they saved the butcher block island from

I had a general idea of what was in the cooler, but there was a lot left to discover.  First out was a cut I hadn’t seen before but one that looked the most normal of anything in the batch.

Looked like flank steak, but the symmetry made it clear that it wasn't

My first guess was that it was cheeks, but Billy had mentioned that he wasn’t able to keep any parts of the head due to sanitary reasons.  Also, the fact that it was in one continuous piece didn’t seem right.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop some disgusting bombshell here (that comes later).  It turns out that it is the piece between the spine and diaphragm, which I believe is known as hanger steak.  See!  This blog isn’t all gross!  There’s stuff we all overpay for when paired with french fries that they call “frites”!

Next up, a throwback to one of the early posts on this blog back when I knew even less about what I was doing than I do now.

A return of the absurd cutting board, on top of another cutting board, on top of a butcher block island that was intended to be used as a cutting board. There's a classic Phil Hartman SNL skit called the Anal Retentive Chef, and the reality is nothing they spoofed in that skit comes close to these OCD moments from me

The heart was quite a bit larger than the one I cooked a couple years ago, and it also didn’t arrive pre-butchered.  The only steps I took before bagging and labeling was removing the ventricle and valve-laden top area and cut the whole thing in half so I wouldn’t need to prepare it all in one meal.  Should have mentioned that part of the goal of bagging was getting everything into individual meal portions.  You know, so I can drag out the misery for my friends (joy for me) for more than one meal.

Next up was the thymus gland (or sweetbreads) and tongue.  Both of these don’t require a ton of detail since they are pretty common on restaurant menus, but….

Nothing to see here, move along move along

The thymus gland isn’t that pleasant to look at it in it’s fully butchered form, but when it’s still encased in the hard, bloody fat that surrounds it, it’s even less so.  I will have to revisit this when it’s in some sort of delicious meal in a few months.

The tongue. I've got lots of these thanks to Billy and David from Snow Farm. This one required a little rinsing

The tongue had the biggest, “oooohhhh, daggg.” moment of the entire process when I removed it from the trashbag and found it still covered with grass from the cow’s last meal.  As I said in the chicken slaughter post, it’s occasionally good to get a reminder of the previously happy animal on the other end of your grubfest.  I love eating animals, but if this paragraph grosses you out and the $18 Filet at Applebees doesn’t, it might be time for a reminder that your meat doesn’t grow in styrofoam packages.

Alright, enough preachiness on topics other people care about far more than me, how bout some kidneys!

From the second I opened the cooler, I recognized that smell, yet I honestly didn't know there were kidneys in there until I started digging around. Nice of Billy and the crew to peel them for me.

Although the kidneys had that distinct kidney smell, they also smelled cleaner than the ones I had purchased previously.  Not sure if that makes any sense or if I was just imagining it because I liked the idea of the non-factory farmed cow smelling fresher.  Regardless, I have no idea what I will be doing with these kidneys since the last few months have left me a little kindney-ed out.  Will think of something.

Next to last out of the bag was the whole skinned cow tail.

That is some extremely cool looking food, and also some easy entry point offal. My friend Marshall has a great recipe for oxtail that calls for an un-separated slab of sliced bacon and a pound of ice, I'll have him send you the recipe

I’ve had oxtail a couple times before and also participated in a few failed attempts to cook it.  It’s tender and flavorful stuff, like great pot roast, when cooked right.  Usually, it’s sliced perpendicularly into inch-thick pieces and this is the first time I had ever seen a whole tail.

I ended up learning that the cartilage that runs down the center of the tail is a lot thicker than I thought when I couldn’t get through it with less than 4 swings of my cleaver.  This was likely due to my consistently decreasing muscle content, the lightweight/dull cleaver, and my wildly innacurrate swings that either missed entirely or landed an inch to the left of the previous cut.  Oh well, I got it broken down to three pieces and into a bag.

Last up was easily the most bizarre/gross item in the bunch and one that led to multiple, “wait, seriously?” emails from Billy after I requested it; the udder.

I'm pretty sure Billy and co. left the fur on to remind me what this is, but it might just have been that they had no interest in dealing with it. Also, please don't tell my wife that this image was taken in our kitchen sink. Thx

As gross as it sounds, I know from watching lots of TV and web research that this is a somewhat common food at grill restaurants in various South American countries.  I was picturing something incredibly fatty but more like an heavily marbled piece of meat than what it ended up being; a huge block of fat marbled with meat.

I think I've shown how big that cutting board is over numerous previous posts. That udder was a good 10+ pounds

I had no idea what I would eventually do with the udder, but I knew I wouldn’t want to use it all at once so it was cut and divided into multiple smaller bags.  During the cutting process you could see the incredibly odd texture of the meat, with large pockets of fat and pink meat running between it.  Odd stuff, looking forward to experimenting with it a bit in the future, especially after learning a lot this past weekend when I grilled a few slices of it.

After nearly burning out my food saver, here is where I ended up.

That right there is a solid two months worth of blog posts, but I'll need to mix it in occasionally with normal meals to avoid alienating everyone who I cook and write for

This all headed into my chest freezer in the basement in a reusable grocery bag that I should have written “Kristi, don’t look in here” on.  Also, chest freezers and food savers are the best use of $300 (combined) that I have encountered in my life.

Thanks to Uncle Billy for providing me with awesome ingredients along with a beef buyers guide that I have been studying with a confused look on my face like an 8 year old boy with a Playboy.  Next week will either be one of my go to recipes or some pretty interesting food that we made last weekend on our visit to NJ.