WRITTEN BY: Mark Misura, Sons of the Hunt
In recent years, the venison heart has hands-down become my favorite cut of the whitetail deer. The unique texture, taste, and consistency leaves the door open to endless culinary creativity.
Conversely, the heart can be an intimidating endeavor for these same reasons. I’ve experimented with several preparations throughout the years, but the following has been my personal favorite to date.
This is a recipe of my own creation, inspired by my time spent in the Philippines studying tropical ecology. During my time there, I fell in love with a street-food dish called “sisig” which consists of various, vinegar-marinated pieces of pork (mainly from the head) and chicken livers, then grilled and stir-fried with onions, peppers, and garlic.
It was always served sizzling hot. It was greasy, salty, spicy, and just all around delicious. I couldn’t get enough of it. Needless to say, the dish made an impression on me and this is how I’ve transitioned the spirit of sisig into my favorite wild-game dish.
1 venison heart
3 pieces of bacon (diced)
1-2 jalapenos (sliced)
1 red chili pepper (sliced)
1 white onion (sliced)
1/2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup of peanut oil (or whatever you prefer to fry with)
1/2 cup of Kimchi (chopped)
1/2 cup of white vinegar
First thing you need, obviously, is a venison heart. I prepare my venison hearts by brining them in heavy salt water for at least for 24 hours. The brine ratio I use is roughly 1/2 cup of salt to 2 cups of water. This will flush a significant amount of blood out of the heart. When I remove it from the brine, I rinse it with cold tap water and let the pressure of the faucet push some of the residual blood out of the arteries and ventricles. The rest can be removed when you clean the heart. Venison hearts can be cut up in various ways and I’ve experimented with several. I think my favorite, and probably the best choice if you plan on vacuum-sealing and storing, is cutting along the seams of the heart where the musculature connects. Following these seams with your knife will leave you with two, beautiful, thick, flat slabs of meat that will freeze well. Now that you have a clean, meal-ready heart, here’s what you’re going to do…
Generously salt and pepper your slabs of venison heart and set aside. In a cast iron pan, on medium heat, brown the diced bacon. I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, bacon in a wild game dish…how original.” Well, here it actually serves a purpose. Venison heart is extremely lean and from what I’ve experienced introducing some sort of rendering fat will produce the best results. So, in attempting to keep some semblance of the origins of the dish, I chose to use bacon because it’s the most readily available pork-fat product most people have access to. So it’s not just bacon for the sake of bacon. It’s bacon with a purpose. I digress. You only want to par-cook the bacon here, as it will be reintroduced later to crisp up.
Once the bacon is removed from the pan, add a tablespoon of peanut oil (or the oil of your choice) and again, par-fry your sliced onions and jalapenos until the onions begin to become translucent. You can remove them from the pan and set them aside with the bacon, as they will also be reintroduced into the dish simultaneously. Increase your heat to medium-high and sear your salt-and-peppered slabs of heart.
This next part takes a little bit of culinary finesse to really hit your preferred temperature. I like to get a good brown char on the outside. Good char will add awesome texture and flavor to the dish. I typically sear them for about two minutes on each side depending on the thickness of the heart. A big, mature buck will obviously have a much larger heart than a doe and take a little bit longer. There is quite a lot of contention around the preferred temperature or “done-ness” of heart. I find I enjoy it at multiple temperatures from medium rare to well done depending on the dish, but for this preparation, I prefer it a bit more on the medium to well side, mainly for the consistency. Whatever temperature you’re aiming for, you’re going to want to remove the heart from the pan before it’s reached your desired level of “done-ness.”
Remove the heart slabs from the pan and slice the seared meat into more manageable pieces. I like to cut them so they’re “fork-manageable.” Searing the heart, then cutting it up and reintroducing it, will help the true flavor of the heart permeate the entire dish, putting its unique flavor at the forefront without being overly disguised by all the peppers and onions.
Add a touch more oil to the pan, and reintroduce the bacon, onions, and jalapenos. Let the heart, bacon, onions, and peppers meld together for about a minute in the pan, and then add a 1/2 cup of chopped kimchi and 1/2 tbsp of minced garlic. Stir-fry this mixture together for two to three minutes to let all the flavors marry.
This dish can be eaten at this point or served with rice. My personal favorite is serving it with a side of jasmine rice that has had a few splashes of white vinegar and chili peppers spooned over it. Remember that cooking is a creative process. Make this dish your own! If you’re not a fan of spicy food, replace the jalapenos with green bell peppers. Use regular, non-spicy kimchi. Leave out the red chili peppers on the rice. Don’t be afraid to try new things! Good luck out there, be safe, shoot straight and save your hearts!
This recipe was originally shared via video on the Sons of the Hunt Youtube Page.