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

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 Wayfair.com.

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.

Weird Crap I Cook: Steak and Kidney Pie

When Hi Lo closed in JP, I lost a full aisle of meats and organs that I had never cooked before.  Luckily, the local Stop & Shop added a few items that have made their way into a recent blog posts.  A quick scan of the meat section presents a handful of foods I have penciled in for future posts: pigs ears, bone-in goat meat, honeycomb tripe, and a couple other goodies.  But this post is about beef kidneys.

Just now noticing the "recipe and cooking instructions" on the generic peel-off Tender & Flavorful Beef label. My guess is the recipes aren't kidney specific

I’d seen steak and kidney pie on a previous visit to London and heard my English godmother discuss it, but never tasted it and certainly never cooked it.  It looked decent enough in pictures, like a beef pot pie, so I settled on it being the most innocuous use for the kidneys.

I learned my lesson from previous organ meat adventures and bought the smallest packages of meat that were available.  Even so, this was enough for steak and kidney pie to serve 6, so I ended up cutting both in half and freezing the extra.  You know, for when I feel like cooking kidneys again.

Funky looking stuff. Apparently there is a membrane covering kidneys usually that must have been removed by the white coated fellers at Stop & Shop

I rinsed the kidneys well and then went about trimming off the hard chunk of fat at the center and any weird(er) looking areas.  From there I cut into cubes that wouldn’t seem overwhelming in a mouthful of pie.

Not as funky looking, but helped clarify that I definitely ate a skewer of kidneys while in Morocco which I previously believed was liver. Trimmed out fat is in the background

Although the recipes I referenced instructed to use the kidneys as-is, I remember hearing that soaking in milk can help reduce any off-tasting flavors.  So I poured some milk in a bowl, added the kidneys, and put the bowl in the fridge for a couple hours.

While that soaks, a quick sidebar.  I’ve heard very bad things about how kidneys smell, and I was prepared for the worst.  However, they didn’t smell strongly of anything at all.  Once I started cutting, I did notice a slight smell that could be described as “uric”, but it wasn’t anything worse then the smell of blood at the bottom of a package of beef.  Back to the soakin’.

Looks way too much like yogurt with strawberries

I could tell something had worked, since the milk went from white to pink over the course of the soaking.

Not sure if it was entirely mental, but this looked a lot more innocuous than before the milk soak

After I strained off the milk, rinsed the kidneys, and patted them dry, I cubed the chuck and seasoned everything heavily with salt and pepper.

The chuck. Went with a ratio of about 2 parts chuck, 1 part kidney. If I am trying a new organ meat, I am always going to lean towards it being an ingredient more than a main event

The kidneys. Looks like more than it was, probably about a half pound once trimmed and looking more innocuous by the second

The plan was to cook all the ingredients separately in the same pan and dump them all into a large saucepan once they had been quickly browned.

The chuck went in first, then the kidneys (shown), then carrots/celery/garlic, and finally thick sliced brown mushrooms

Once everything had browned, I deglazed the pan with some sherry and poured it over the ingredients.

I would, and do, put sherry into everything. It's never an unwelcome flavor

Over medium heat I stirred in a heaping tablespoon of flour, let it cook for a few minutes, then added a spoonful of tomato paste, a bay leaf, and a spoonful of concentrated beef stock.

The seared mushrooms actually were kept off to the side until all ingredients were combined and simmering. Wanted them to keep some texture

A quick sidebar on the concentrated stock.  I will do a full post on making it at some point, but it’s basically a reduced version of 10 pounds of roasted marrow bones, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, a bottle of red wine, and water.  All boiled down to 2 cups of strongly beef flavored gelatin that makes a great sauce starter.

This was an attempt to show how thick the concentrated stock is, but really it just shows off my gnarled thumb. Been biting my nails too much lately

Back to the cooking.  With the strong flavors of the tomato paste and concentrated stock added, there was no need to use beef broth or anything similar to add more flavor.  So, I used a beer instead.

Much as I think the best cooking wine is Charles Shaw, I think the best cooking beer is whatever is oldest in the fridge. This is a German beer leftover from an Oktoberfest party a few weeks ago

After adding an additional splash of water to completely cover the meat and vegetables, I reduced the heat to a simmer.

I didn't like the color at this point. I was hoping for dark and rich and had my doubts that it would get there. I was probably moping around the house and starting arguments with Janet

Over the next two hours of simmering I attempted to skim off any fat and congealing funkiness that rose to the top and stirred regularly.  Against my pessimistic concerns, the sauce reduced, darkened, and thickened to the color and consistency I was hoping for.

Forgot to take a picture before I started spooning it out

The filling went directly into a loaf pan while I worked on the crust.

Those air pockets made me happy since they showed how thick the filling was

The crust started off with a standard tube of Pillsbury crescent dough, rolled out flat onto a piece of wax paper and pinched along the pre-cut areas to make one uniform piece.  Once fully laid out, I folded it on itself to make a a rectangular shape that would fit inside the loaf pan.

Could have put more effort into pinching the pre-cut lines into a uniform piece, but close enough

After a brushing the raw crust with some egg wash, the pie went into a 400F oven for 30 minutes.  Which left me with this:

This picture should make any doubters interested in this meal, even if you substitute in stew meat for the kidneys

The loaf added up to about three good sized portions, which was more than enough since only Conor and I were planning to eat it.  Mashed potatoes and peas seemed like a decently British pairing, but I substituted some leftover celery root/potato puree for the traditional mashed.

I thought this actually looked like a nice authentic plate that Benny Hill would stand up from and then chase around some ladies in bikinis with a creepy look on his face. That previous sentence made no sense to you if you didn't watch Benny Hill reruns in the 80s

The pie was extremely rich and had a delicious combination of flavors from the carrots, onions, beer and concentrated stock.  The best bites were either a little crust and a little pie filling or some of the mash and peas with the pie filling.

You could definitely tell when you were eating pieces of chuck vs. kidneys, due to the texture and flavor.  The kidneys were like tender rubber bouncy balls: very dense but also easy to chew.  The flavor wasn’t overpowering or off-putting, especially surrounded by so many other complimentary flavors, but you could definitely tell you were eating organs.  The flavor was irony and gamey, kind of like overcooked lamb.  Conor pointed out the lamb similarities while eating it and I thought it was a dece analogy from someone with such an unrefined palate.  Just kidding, it wasn’t that great of an analogy.

Will likely talk more about cod cheeks or roasting bones next week.