Do’s and Don’ts of Cooking with Deer Heart
Many hunters discard all organs while field-dressing a deer. I used to do the same. Until I heard a veteran sportsman rhapsodizing about the culinary delights of fried deer heart and yellow onions. After that, I saved a heart, and my wife, Elaine, prepared it the same way. We found it tough and barely edible, with the yellow onions’ natural sharpness overwhelming the heart’s delicate flavor.
Deciding to give deer heart another try, Elaine slow-cooked the organ on low for six hours with a can of cream of mushroom soup. She then sliced the meat thinly and made the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. Over the years, we’ve become big fans of deer heart. We’ve found the key to this delicious organ is to prepare it correctly.
Wild and (Guilt) Free
Deer heart is a healthy food. Laura Pole is an oncology clinical nurse specialist and health-supportive chef from Hardy, Virginia. “In general, we are what deer and other animals eat,” she says. “Wild game and pastured animals,
eating their natural diet, pass their health on to us. Wild animal meat also tends to be healthy for us to consume, as it’s often lean and high in protein. Specifically, deer heart has some unique attributes. It contains CoQ10, which serves as an antioxidant. CoQ10 is also essential for the health of human tissues and organs, and our immune systems.”
And that’s just the beginning of the heart’s attributes. Deer hearts, as well as the hearts of other animals, are high in iron, zinc, selenium, and vitamins B2, B6, and B12. So, if you’re feeling tired and run-down, or you have high blood pressure, eating heart regularly can help improve your health, and it can even boost your energy.
Some people don’t like wild game because they think it tastes gamy. From my experience, when the meat from any wild game tastes slightly off, it’s because the animal wasn’t treated correctly after it was killed. Simply stated, the sooner you can remove the heart and other organs, such as the tongue and liver, and chill them, the better they’ll taste later.
When deer hunting, I always bring a small cooler with ice blocks inside. The heart lies at the upper end of the deer’s cavity, right below the windpipe. After severing the windpipe and removing the viscera, I immediately cut out the heart and place it in a plastic bag inside the cooler. The liver and tongue also go inside bags, as do the bottom loins. If I have a long drive home, or if it’s a warm day, I’ll stuff the cavity with a bag of ice. If you accomplish these simple tasks, no one should ever complain about your venison-tasting gamy.
Clean and Cook
Hearts must be cleaned before cooking. First, remove any membrane surrounding the organ; it should be easy to peel. Then, trim off the top portion of the heart where visible blood vessels enter. On the outside of the heart, trim off any whitish areas of fat. Next, cut the heart open to remove blood vessels. The aorta is large, easily visible, and fairly easy to remove. Also take out any smaller, spidery vessels. Once trimming is complete, rinse the heart well to remove any remaining blood. Thoroughly dry the heart before placing it in a zip-close bag and storing it in the freezer.
Ready to give deer heart a try in your own kitchen? Try these recipes:
- Deer Heart Sandwiches
- Heart-y Tomato and Vegetable Soup
- Deer Heart Barbecue
- Deer Heart Salad
- Deer Heart Frittata
- Chef Laura’s Grilled Deer Heart
Bruce and Elaine Ingram are the authors of Living the Locavore Lifestyle, a book about hunting, fishing, and gathering food (with recipes). Contact them at BruceIngramOutdoors@Gmail.com.
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