This is a lovely recipe for beef heart that comes from Peru: anticuchos, or marinated beef heart kebabs. This is one of those recipes that, unless somebody told you, you'd never know was made from an organ meat. Why should you be eating organ meats? I'll show you some of the science behind why.
Why Eat Organ Meats?
Organ meats are truly critical to include as a regular part of your paleo or primal diet. One main reason is so that you get a balanced intake of amino acids, particularly methionine and glycine. This excellent guest post by Chris Masterjohn on the Weston A. Price Foundation website explains this topic in great detail; I recommend you read the entire article. Here's a key quote:
"Successful traditional diets provided muscle meats together with organ meats and gelatinous materials such as bones, gristle and other connective tissue. These combinations provided a healthy balance between the methionine found in muscle meats, the B vitamins found in organ meats, and the glycine found in connective tissue. Modern diets, by contrast, provide abundant quantities of methionine-rich muscle meats while organs and connective tissue have fallen by the wayside. The result of this imbalance is that methionine is unable to fulfill its proper cellular functions and generates toxic byproducts instead, while the supply of glycine is depleted. Together, these changes are likely to contribute to reduced longevity and chronic disease."
Regarding the amino acid composition of heart, oddly, I couldn't find a source in the scientific literature with a breakdown. The only thing I could find was this data sheet for a "beef heart infusion" used in the laboratory as an additive to growth media for certain types of microorganisms. According to the description, it's made from hydrolyzed beef heart, meaning it's just beef heart broken down into its constituent amino acids. So, the numbers listed should correlate to what's found in non-hydrolyzed (whole) beef heart. It states that there are 21mg/g methionine and 42 mg/g glycine in hydrolyzed beef heart, or that there is a 2:1 ratio of glycine:methionine in beef heart.
Yes, the heart is a muscle, but it is also an organ and its nutritional profile is more similar to the other organ meats than it is to skeletal muscle meats, and it is very nutrient-dense: It is a rich source of B vitamins, selenium, iron, zinc, copper phosphorus (I've seen blogs say it has collagen and elastin, too, but I could not verify this claim and find it unlikely). Arguably the most important nutrient found in heart is co-enzyme Q10, a powerful antioxidant that is present in almost every cell in your body, and is used by your cells to generate energy in the form of ATP. Beef heart is one of the most concentrated sources of CoQ10 of any food, with 113.3 mcg/g. It only falls behind pork heart, with 126.8 mcg/g, and reindeer heart, with 157.9 mcg/g (source).
From the University of Maryland Medical Center, CoQ10 is also indicated to help treat or prevent: heart failure, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart damage from chemotherapy, heart surgery, periodontal disease, and it may prevent further heart attacks if given after a heart attack. See a theme? Eating heart is good for your heart! There's something to the old adage to "eat what ails you".
So, based on these data, we see that beef heart is rich in the B vitamins and glycine necessary to help balance out methionine intake from skeletal muscle meats. Great!
Peruvian Anticuchos Recipe
Now, on to the recipe. There are a couple of notes.
- If you are using a whole beef heart, then you will need to do some prep work. While fat is our friend (especially from grass-fed cows), you need to trim it away for this recipe. You also need to trim away the blood vessels and connective tissue from the interior chambers. SAVE ALL OF THESE TRIMMINGS! You can throw them in a batch of bone broth/beef stock later and you can render the fat for cooking after you save up enough.
- Don't be afraid of the aji panca paste. It is a VERY mild pepper, with a somewhat fruity and smoky flavor. Aji panca is only a measly 500-1000 Scoville Units, while jalapenos are 3,500-5,000, and cayenne is 35,000-55,000 (source). You can order aji panca paste from Amazon, or try your local Hispanic grocery store. Try to buy a brand without preservatives or other additives (I like Belmont or Zócalo [organic] brand). If you just can't find it or don't want to order it, you could substitute another chile, but be careful to scale the amount you are using based on the relative hotness of your chile to the aji panca.
Peruvian Anticuchos: Marinated Beef Heart Kebabs or Stir Fry
Prep time: 5-20 minutes, plus marinating time
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15-30 minutes, plus marinating time
Yield: 2-4 servings
- 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 4 limes)
- 3 Tbsp aji panca paste
- 6 cloves garlic, finely minced or fresh-pressed (best ever garlic press!)
- 1 1/2 tsp unrefined salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 lb grass-fed beef heart, cut into chunks and trimmed of fat
- 2-3 Tbsp fat (coconut, palm, clarified butter, lard, tallow) (if stir-frying)
- 1-2 bell peppers, any color, cut into short strips (if stir frying)
- 1 medium onion, cut into short strips (if stir frying)
- Use a non-reactive airtight container (preferably glass) to combine the lime juice, aji panca paste, garlic, salt, and black pepper to make the marinade.
- Trim heart of fat, connective tissue, and blood vessels (reserve for other uses). For traditional anticuchos, cut the meat into equal-sized chunks, about 1 1/2 - 2 inches long and about 1/2 inch thick. For stir fry, cut into thin strips (pictured).
- Place trimmed heart in the marinade and mix to ensure all the pieces are covered with marinade.
- Place your airtight container in the fridge to marinate for anywhere between 1 hour to overnight. The longer it marinates, the more tender and flavor-infused the meat will be. If you are really in a time crunch, you can marinate for 1 hour at room temperature.
- You have 2 options for cooking: grill or stir fry. Skewered and grilled is the traditional method of preparation, but I enjoy stir frying the meat. The skewer method makes these more of an appetizer than a main course, while the stir fry lets you make it into a full meal.
- GRILLING INSTRUCTIONS: Pre-heat grill (gas or charcoal will work) to be HOT and ready for direct heat cooking. Optional: grill indoors on a HOT cast iron grill pan. Note: this method doesn't work as well as grilling outdoors, but if you live in a lame condo building like I do that suddenly and without reason outlaws outdoor grilling, this is your only option aside from the stir-fry.
- Skewer heart pieces, about 3-4 per skewer. Reserve some marinade. I've never soaked bamboo skewers before (and never had any catch on fire), but most recipes tell you to. If you are so inclined, soak them in a container of water for 30 minutes before adding meat.
- Grill 3-5 minutes per side, brushing with additional marinade if desired. DO NOT OVERCOOK! Heart gets tough and rubbery if overcooked -- you want it to be medium rare or at most medium to be tender and delicious.
- Serve immediately.
- STIR-FRY INSTRUCTIONS: You will need 2 medium to large skillets. Remove meat from marinade and let drain on paper towels. First, cut your pepper(s) and onion into thin short strips. Then, in one pan, sautee onions and peppers until soft in a little fat of choice. Add a few spoonfuls of leftover marinade (or all of it) and stir to combine. Continue to cook for 1-2 minutes after adding marinade. If heart is not ready at the exact same time, turn heat to low while heart finishes cooking.
- At the same time, in second large skillet, cook heart over medium heat in a little of your oil of choice, about 2-4 minutes per side. A 12 inch skillet should be large enough to accommodate the next step.
- After both the heart and the vegetables are cooked, add vegetables to the large skillet with beef heart and stir to combine. Cook together for about 1-2 minutes and stir to combine well as you cook.
- Plate and serve immediately, alone or with an additional side. Platanos maduros (fried ripe plantains) or tostones (twice-fried green plantains) are excellent options for a starchy side.