Captain Beefheart Revisited
Growing up in New York gave me access to some of the best cured meats in the world. And while I had my fair share of Boar’s Head and the like, I also was treated to some great renditions of house made pastrami. Nothing is better than a hot pastrami sandwich on marble rye with Swiss cheese and ground mustard. I have even adored the venerable ‘Rachel’ – a sandwich based on the Reuben but with pastrami substituted for corned beef and slaw for sauerkraut.
Recently, I was able to witness the slaughter of a live beef. It was a visceral experience that I will never forget and will also be writing about later. The vivid mental images of a 700 pound animal walking around then later laying on the ground, dead from a gunshot wound to the head, will never leave me. Watching the beast being eviscerated and butchered into quarters was a pretty incredible experience. From the steaming blood pouring from the severed carotid artery to the still-pulsating muscles on it’s brisket – it was intense.
At one point, the offal was being removed from the animal and taken to a large bucket. I asked one of the men what they intended to do with it and he replied that it would be taken to the neighbors dogs. I love dogs but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. So I asked for the heart – not knowing yet what I’d do with it – and was granted the large organ as a gift.
I was excited as well as curious about what preparations I could make with it. Should I grill it and slice it thinly? Or dry cure it? Nay, I knew what I’d do – brine and smoke it like pastrami. Heart is just one, big, firm muscle so why not substitute it in a pastrami cure vs. the traditional beef plate or brisket? So off I went looking for recipes…
Beef Heart Pastrami Recipe
After some quick research and asking some friends in the Sausage Debauchery Facebook group I landed on the preparation recommended by Taylor Boetticher from The Fatted Calf where I had recently completed a stage in 2014. The recipe that follows is adapted from In the Charcuterie with very slight changes. Now, this recipe will work for other, traditional cuts of beef but I’m using the heart here because, well, because I have one.
Making beef heart pastrami isn’t a terribly difficult process. However, the duration from start to finish is about 2 weeks so be ready to wait while your heart is taking time brining, drying and smoking. The wait is worth it I assure you!
- One big beef heart
- 880g Kosher salt
- 570g Raw sugar (demerara)
- 5 tsp Black peppercorns
- 5 tsp Yellow mustard seeds
- 2 tsp Coriander seeds
- 3 Juniper berries
- 10 Whole cloves
- 3 Bay leaves
- 11 quarts of boiling water
- 75g #1 Pink Salt
- 40g Coriander seeds
- 35g Black peppercorns
- 1 Tbs Cumin seeds
- 40g Yellow mustard seeds
- 55g Smoked paprika
- 55g Brown sugar – packed
Step 1 – Preparing the Brine
First things first – beef hearts need to be brined for a while. They are tough muscles and they need a good bath in salty spiced water to allow for the flavor to permeate the meat and to become more tender.
Prepare the brine by placing the dry ingredients (except the pink salt) above into a non-reactive container such as a cambro. Boil the water and pour into the container. Mix well until the salt and sugar have dissolved, cover loosely and let cool overnight.
The next morning, take the heart out and let it air dry for 1-2 hours at room temperature. Stir the reserved pink salt into the brine and then place the heart into the container. Cover the heart with a heavy plate or other weight and refrigerate for 14 days.
Step 2 – Preparing the Rub
Now, if you stopped at this point and wanted to make ‘Corned Heart’ you would simply simmer the heart for 3-4 hours at 300 degrees in a large enough pot to cover it with water along with root vegetables, garlic, celery, thyme and parsley. But we aren’t doing that. So, we need to prepared the rub. While you are prepping the rub, remove the heart from the brine, pat it dry with paper towels and let sit at room temperature uncovered for an hour.
Take the peppercorns and seeds in the ingredients list from above and toast them over medium high heat for about 3-5 minutes until you start to smell their aroma.
Once your spices are toasted, combine with the paprika and sugar and mix well with a whisk. Then let the spices cool to room temperature.
Take the air-dried heart and rub it liberally with the spice mix. Cover it inside and out in every crevice you can reach with your fingers. Then put it in the fridge and let it air dry uncovered overnight to develop a crust.
Step 3 – Smoking the Pastrami
Now that you have your pastrami rubbed and dried overnight – you’ll need to prep your smoker for the last step. I’m assuming you have a smoker or have access to one. If not, then you’ll need to look on another blog for alternative methods of smoking in your oven or otherwise. Or, just go to Home Depot and buy yourself an early birthday gift.
Anyway, soak your wood chips (I use Hickory, Alder or Fruitwood) and fill your water pan in the smoker. Then set it at 180 degrees Fahrenheit (85 Celsius). The steam generated from the water pan will help keep the heart moist during smoking.
Generally, you’ll smoke the heart for 2.5-3.5 hours until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65 Celsius). When it’s done, you should have something that looks like this:
Step 4 – Slice and Eat
OK – you made it! Now, it’s time to slice and eat that baby. Now if you don’t have access to a deli slicer you will want to use your sharpest knife and slice the heart as thinly as possibly. The thinner the better as the muscle is still quite tough and the texture matters a great deal. Thick cut heart will behave like shoe leather in your mouth. Not a good mental picture.
Make your own Rachel with some homemade slaw, a couple nice slices of Swiss cheese, some stone ground mustard and a nice, soft rye bread.