Filson Food: Elk Heart Tacos with Mojo de Ajo

HEART IS WITHOUT A DOUBT THE MOST UNDERAPPRECIATED CUT OF MEAT IN ANY GAME ANIMAL. THE SPECIFIC GAME ANIMAL MAKES NO DIFFERENCE; FROM MALLARD DUCK TO SHIRAS MOOSE, I WOULD PUT A PROPERLY PREPARED HEART UP AGAINST ANY OTHER CUT OF MEAT.

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In Western civilization, we lump the heart into the offal category alongside lungs, liver, kidneys, etc.

The problem with this categorization is the heart is actually a muscle and would fit better alongside sirloins, backstraps, and tenderloins.
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What makes a good cut of meat is a combination of the amount of fat, the makeup of the meat fibers, and the amount of work the muscle does.

In every one of these areas, the heart outperforms the more pedestrian cuts we find in most grocery stores. The heart muscle works more than any other muscle in the animal, and all that work results in lots of great flavor. The fibers of the heart muscle are extremely fine, which gives it an almost silky texture. Lastly, the heart is all muscle and almost devoid of any perceivable fat, which keeps the taste very pure.

The keys to cooking heart are very simple. First, clean the heart of all connective tissue so that you are left with lobes of pure muscle. Second, heart is best eaten medium-rare. Overcooked heart can take on a strong livery taste.

For this recipe, heart shines in a simple taco with a tangy garlic citrus sauce called mojo de ajo.

Makes tacos for 4-5

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INGREDIENTS

Mojo de Ajo

2 heads Garlic, halved
2 medium Tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 Habanero pepper, seeds and ribs removed
2 Shallots, peeled and halved
¼ cup Olive oil
2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Cumin seeds, crushed
3 Oranges, juiced
6 Limes, juiced
2 tbsp Sugar
2 tsp Dried oregano

Cucumber Salsa

2 Cocktail cucumber, diced small (use 6” of a regular cucumber)
10 Radishes, diced small
4 Green onions, finely sliced

Tacos

1 Elk heart; if using deer heart, use 2-3
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 tbsp Oil
White corn tortillas
Cotija cheese
Cilantro
Hot sauce

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STEPS

Mojo de Ajo

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and place an oven-proof pan over medium heat.
2. Add 1 tbsp of the olive oil to the pan along with the shallots and garlic, both cut side down.
3. Sauté for 2 minutes or until the garlic is golden brown on the cut side.
4. Add the tomatoes, habanero, salt, cumin seeds, and the remainder of the olive oil to the pan and transfer to the oven.
5. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until the garlic is completely soft.
6. Remove the pan from the oven, allow to cool for 10 minutes, squeeze the garlic out of the skins, and discard the skins.
7. Combine the ingredients from the pan with the remainder of the ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend on high for 1 minute or until the sauce is completely smooth.
8. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
9. Strain the sauce and set aside to cool.

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Tacos

1. Clean the heart extremely of all sinew, connective tissue, fat, and the exterior layer. You should have 2-3 cleaned lobes of pure muscle as per the picture.
2. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over high heat and season the heart on both sides liberally with salt and fresh ground pepper.
3. Drizzle the oil onto the heart and massage it onto all sides of the lobes.
4. Once the pan is very hot, working one at a time, sear each lobe for 30-60 seconds per side or until medium-rare.
5. Allow the heart to rest somewhere warm for a couple of minutes while you prepare the rest of the tacos.
6. In a dry pan over medium-low heat, toast the tortillas until hot and steamy. Keep warm.
7. Slice the heart very thinly against the grain.
8. Assemble the tacos with heart, salsa, and mojo de ajo and finish with cilantro, Cotija cheese, and hot sauce.

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Cucumber Salsa

1. Combine all the ingredients, mix well, and set aside.

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