Thursday 13 October 2016

A Mixed Bag: Cooking with Venison Offal and a Recipe for Pineapple Marinated Moose Heart

With Thanksgiving just past and apple season petering off a bit it might be tough to get excited for the next few months of cooking. However right when my mind was wandering off to Christmas recipes and a running catalogue of soups with which to occupy myself I was hit with a surprise reminder that it’s still Autumn; a bloody grocery bag full of moose offal.

              My dear cousin Julie, great huntress that she is, recently picked a critter off up North and hauled the beast down, in doing so she was kind enough to share some bits of it with me in the process. This gooey sack of moose bits was a kind reminder that Fall isn’t all harvesting apples and herbs or Thanksgiving turkeys on buckling tables, it’s also traditionally a time to hunt. Now I’m not unfamiliar with offal, I’ve cooked up veal sweetbreads and made liver pâté from a wide range of critters, last Fall I even dealt with an offal emergency as we searched for ways to cook and preserve a big fresh liver from the deer that my brother Joe shot with his bow (the solution? Pâté, pâté and more pâté…oh and some fried liver too.) 

But here we have a different situation; hunted offal is best served fresh, storing it is seen by many as a sin as offal is said to lose its flavour and texture at alarming rates. In my case I was faced with three baggies of three very different kinds of organs that were all meant to be consumed as fresh as possible…you might see why this put me in a bit of a conundrum. To make things worse, these are not easy bits of meat to cook, so in the name of stomach science I decided to experiment, with no promises that this produced anything tasty I invite you to join me in a bit of an offal adventure.

From left to right: Heart, kidney, liver

1. Heart tends to be feared for its toughness, braising it whole, long and at low temperature is often described as the best solution to cooking it. Sounds simple enough right? Well, in my case the heart was pre-sliced when it got to me…uh oh there goes the long, slow and whole approach.

My method: Considering that the meat is famously tough I decided to take something of an obvious route; marinating. I started off with the juice of a lime and a lemon, some salt and pepper but was a tad hesitant…would this do the trick? I mean heart can be really tough, what if this wasn’t enough? I couldn’t help but recall a time where I roasted some heart and chewed on it until my jaw was sore… it didn’t take long before it became dog food.

As I pondered the toughness issue a bit of musing in front of an open fridge sparked a eureka moment as I spotted some pineapple I had cut up earlier in the day. I remembered the aching tongue that I’d experienced a time or two from overindulging in the prickly fruit and how a few articles I had read described how the bromelain in pineapples breaks down proteins, essentially allowing the pineapple to bite you right back as chew on it. With this in mind and inspired by the thought of tacos al pastor, I threw a few chunks of pineapple into the blender with a dried chili and some vinegar and poured it over the bits of heart before letting it marinate.

Result: Tasty! Seared on the grill on high heat with some more pineapple and then served with a fresh salsa I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, definitely a potential taco filling for the future!

2. Kidney Not exactly the most appetizing organ, it is rather well-known for smelling (and tasting!) mildly of pee, this is not at all coincidental as it plays a key role in the body in excreting the stuff.

Approach: Soak it in milk, pray that is sucks out the pee flavour. Backup plan? Smothering it in fresh horseradish and a cubic tonne of mustard.

Kidney and liver soaking in milk

Result: Fried up, the kidney had a consistency reminiscent of hotdog, of course hot dogs and sausages have long served as a home for offal so I guess this wasn’t terribly surprising. It was a bit strange straight up so I treated it as a hotdog by throwing it on a slice of homebaked sourdough and adding some toppings. All things considered, not bad but I think this would have been better off soaking a tad longer as some pieces tasted a tad funky. I can see why this bit tends to find its way into pies and sausages, I think I’d prefer it mixed, mind you the fresh moose kidney tasted substantially better than what I’ve had in steak and kidney pie.

See that doesn't look so bad does it?

3. Finally we’re left with liver, probably the easiest to cook and most familiar of the trio. Now I’ve never been a huge liver fan, lest it be in the pâté I won’t stop mentioning. Liver for those of you who might not have come into contact with it at its worst, can be very metallic tasting, kind of like dragging your tongue against a mixture of blood and iron shavings. However, it can be made to be quite decent with some tender loving care.

Approach: Determined not to take the easy way out (pâté) I decided to cook it traditionally. I soaked it like the kidney then patted it dry, dredged it in flour and fried it in browned butter.

Result: Did not taste terribly like iron but still was strong enough to be a tad off-putting to me, I guess it could have used more soaking. A liver loving friend enjoyed it enough that she had the leftovers with eggs for breakfast, ultimately, not quite my cup of tea but tasty enough for a connoisseur. In my case? I think I’ll stick to pâté…

Night time photography: bad lighting is not helping this chunk of liver one bit

Should you ever feel like giving heart a try, here’s a rough outline of my recipe:

Marinated Moose Heart with Pineapple Salsa


-A few slices of heart, maybe 200g or so?


-2 cloves garlic
-1 tbsp white vinegar
-3-4 pieces pineapple
-1 chilli pepper
-A pinch of roasted ground cumin would probably also be good

-1 small tomato
-A few mint leaves, finely chopped, I would have preferred coriander or a combination of the two but alas there was none around.
-About ¼ of a red onion, shaved
-A few pieces of grilled pineapple
-A touch of olive oil
-Chili pepper to taste

1.       Combine marinade ingredients in a blender until liquefied.
2.       Pour marinade onto heart pieces, refrigerate overnight.
I swear, things will get better from this point on

3.       The next day grill heart and the chunks of pineapple over high heat on the bbq, cook quickly until grill marks appear, flip and grill again, maybe 3 minutes total.  
4.       As the heart rests dice salsa ingredients and combine. Serve thinly sliced; in tortillas with chipotle mayo, on a salad or alone as an appetizer as pictured below.