I didn't know what to expect before the lamb heart hit the table at Coquette. I didn’t think it would arrive in a valentine shape, of course, but would it look like an organ? Would I need a steak knife? And, silly as it seems in retrospect, I also vaguely wondered if it would be bloody, and by that I don’t mean rare.
Academically, we know the heart is made of muscle, and so is a pork chop, a chicken wing or a hamburger. But we don't always eat academically, and the prospect of dining on an organ I'd not tasted before was intriguing. After an interview with Coquette chef Michael Stoltzfus the following day, I learned that’s part of the reason why it’s on his menu.
“When you order a New York strip, it’s delicious but you know what you’re going to get. You order heart and you’re getting something a little more exciting and unexpected,” he says. “When we first got them in, I didn’t know how it would go over but we went through that first supply in two hours. People are really curious about it.”
Curiosity certainly drew me in, and I wasn't disappointed. Naturally, it tasted like lamb, though maybe a little chewier and grassier than the meat of lamb tenderloin. It also tasted lean, and it was a little smoky from the grill. It was sliced thin, leaving no suggestion of its original form. And no, it was not bloody (or even rare).
Stoltzfus says the lamb hearts arrive at his kitchen about the size of a baseball, and for his recipe they’re sliced up and marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. He plates them with pickled cucumber and carrot and grape tomatoes. Some horseradish jus finishes the dish, and I did too, rapidly.
Lamb heart is currently part of Coquette’s five-course tasting menu at dinner, but the restaurant will serve it as an a la carte appetizer on request too.
Heart counts as offal (“red offal,” in fact, like liver, as distinguished from “white offal,” like brains and intestines), and while a novelty here it’s not such an unusual ingredient in other cultures. The French culinary encyclopedia Larouse Gastronomique lists seven representative recipes and notes that heart can be roasted, grilled, stewed, braised, fried, worked into a ragout or simply seared in butter. For another local example, you could make a whole meal of grilled chicken hearts at Churra's Brazilian Grill, a traditional churrascaria in Kenner. Pierced by saber-like skewers and served whole, these chicken hearts are dark, dense, chewy bite-sized morsels.
You may be seeing similar dishes more often elsewhere too. Dante’s Kitchen, for instance, currently lists a grilled beef heart on its dinner menu, and serves it with red wine reduction and blue cheese vinaigrette.
The reason hearts found their way onto Coquette’s menu has to do with its meat supplier, Two Run Farm, a small ranch in Vaughn, Miss., that produces pasture-raised cattle and sheep and has been doing more business with New Orleans chefs lately.
“They’re breaking down the whole animal and making all the parts accessible to us,” says Stoltzfus. “I wouldn’t want to buy a 20 pound box of hearts from a supplier, but when you can get a few of them and other things you get to play around with them.”
By the same token, he says, brains, tongue, beef heart and pig hearts may soon turn up on his menu in the future.
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