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buffalo heart braised

by Betty Fussell

Buffalo Heart---it sounds like the name of an Indian in a Western cowboy movie  and god knows,  in our beefsteak-conditioned culture, a buffalo heart qualifies as exotic. But in fact, now that we have farm-raised buffalo, hearts are available online or in urban greenmarkets. I bought mine at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. I was delighted to find it, cut from buffalo grassfed on pastures in upper state New York. I could have had a beef heart from the same source, but I liked the sound of “buffalo.”

         My Depression-childhood dinner table never saw a beef steak---far too costly---but we did eat a lot of beef heart and beef tongue. I savor both those parts today and long ago gave up trying to find them in a supermarket for reasons we’re all too familiar with. But if to American producers and consumers a beef heart sounds like poverty food, it has always been  respectable in other parts of the world. I remember eating in Paris in the 1960s a delicious sliced heart in a very rich sauce at a 3-star Michelin restaurant.

         In the Argentine, where beef is a staple, they savor the heart cut into cubes, marinated, then grilled on skewers to be eaten as finger food on the street or as an appetizer called “anticuchos.” But I like the idea of slow cooking this dense and firm muscle, the mighty heart of a mighty beast, in one piece, then slicing it crosswise and serving it moistened with its cooking liquid. Because it has zero interior fat, it needs moistening. Of course you can flavor it any way you want, but I happen to love the dark chocolaty taste of chile mulato or its brighter twin, chile ancho, or almost any chile you can name.

I was cooking for one, so I bought the smallest heart they had. Even so, it was hefty and I looked forward to many meals. But as I kept slicing and snacking, slicing and snacking, it disappeared as quickly as the wild buffalo on our Western prairies. Maybe I was recalling Randolph Scott’s Buffalo Stampede of 1933, in the heart of the Depression, when buffalo were only in the movies and meat of any kind was rare and precious.

A 2-3 pound buffalo (or beef)  heart
1 large dried chili mulato (or ancho)
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼  cup olive oil
2 to 4 cups good beef stock
Salt & black pepper to taste

Trim the heart of external fat or veins. Seed the chili,  open it flat and toast it in a skillet 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside. In the same skillet, toast the garlic over a hot flame until brown on both sides. Remove. Lower heat and toast the cumin 3 to 4 minutes. Cut up the chili and put it in a blender with the garlic, cumin, cilantro, vinegar, oil and 2 cups stock. Blend, taste, then add salt & pepper as wanted. Put the heart in a sealable plastic bag with the marinade and refrigerate a couple of hours or more. When ready to cook, pour the marinade in a lidded pot just large enough to hold the heart. Bring liquid to a simmer, then add the heart. Add enough liquid to cover the beef. Return to the simmer, cover the pot and cook on the lowest heat for around 35 to 45 minutes. Test it with the point of a knife. No blood should appear, but don’t overcook it.

Serves 1 to 6

Beef hearts (and similar innards) are available now at www.heritagefoods.com under their new Beef Program. And there are a lot of buffalo sources online.


Image courtest of: www.coffeytalk.com/



Betty Fussell is a food historian, home cook, author, English professor and freelance writer. Her book, The Story of Corn, was reprinted by University of New Mexico Press. Fussells' memoir My Kitchen Wars, was transformed into a one-woman show performed in New York City and Hollywood. Fussell latest book is a history of American beefsteak titled Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef.

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