Beef heart tacos, ancho and tomato salsa

What to do when a cow’s heart falls into your lap? Questions, questions …

I think my favourite ox/beef heart restaurant experience is the steak and chips at St John Bread and Wine. Sliced very thinly and aggressively seared, there’s char and Maillard flavourings on the outside, but it’s still a touch pink in the middle. The meat is unmistakably beefy with a slight hint of iron, and is generally perfect with the thick cut chips and house tomato sauce it comes with (that rare thing of an okay, almost as good as Heinz, ketchup).

Other memorable vital organ moments include a lamb heart and burnt onion petals dish at The Young Turks at the Ten Bells towards the end of 2011 / early 2012. This time the heart was diced, but again cooked hard and fast. No slow braising of hard working muscle here. (Click here, scroll down, and press play on the Young Turk video)

So, quick, aggressive cooking … browned but tender offal … tangy, sweet tomato … astringent alliums …

Reader, I wanted all of these things, chucked together in a taco.

And that’s what I did.

Behold: beef heart tacos with smoky ancho and roast tomato salsa, pickled red onions and, of course, some coriander. The rich, beefy, ferrous buzz of the meat was tempered by the sticky, sweet salsa, cut through by the acidic onions, and freshened by the coriander. There was enough juice in the just rested beef and salsa to ensure the tacos had the requisite dribble-out-the-back-and-onto-my-wrist moment. A1.

This recipe was first published on a new series I’m running for Borough Market – The Offal Project. There are at least 5 posts to come, so you can look forward to more visceral pictures in the next few months.

Beef heart tacos with ancho and tomato salsa and pickled red onions

For the beef heart

  • 1/2 beef heart (500g)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • For the salsa
  • 200g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 ancho chilli (Cool Chile)
  • 1 teaspoon smoky paprika
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 150ml just boiled water
  • To garnish and season
  • 100g red onion, peeled and very finely diced
  • 60g White wine vinegar
  • 25g granulated sugar
  • Sea salt
  • Leaves picked from 10-12 stems coriander
  • 1 pack Cool Chile’s 10cm corn tortillas (13 total)

Make the pickled red onions first and tomato salsa first.

Put the finely diced onion in a small bowl. Add a good pinch of salt, mix and leave to macerate for 15 minutes. Heat the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar has fully dissolved, then pour this over the onions. Cover with clingfilm and leave for at least an hour – after which the onions will have turned bright pink. You could do this up to 24 hours before if you wish.

To make the tomato salsa, rehydrate the chilli by putting this in a small container and pouring approximately 150ml of just boiled water over the top. Leave it for 30 minutes, then remove from the water and chop finely. Put the chopped chilli, the water used to hydrate it, the cherry tomatoes, paprika, sugar and a pinch of salt into a small but heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer over a low-medium heat for 20-30 minutes until the water has almost entirely evaporated. Squash the tomatoes a little to release excess water (but they should otherwise be intact), and boil and reduce for 5 minutes more. Leave to cool – you will have a sweet, smoky, sticky salsa.

Pick the coriander.

To prepare the heart, slice any hard fat and sinew from the outside (it’s quite obvious which is lean muscle and which is fat). Slice the heart to open it flat. Cut out any sinew from the middle, then slice into manageable sections. They will be approximately 1-1.5cm thick, which is good for this. Slice each piece into 1cm thick lengths, then these lengths into 1cm dice. Mix with 1 tablespoon of oil, the oregano and cumin.

It takes barely a minute to cook the ox heart, so you may wish to cook in batches – perhaps eat half the tacos then cook again.

Put a large frying pan or wok over a very hot hob. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and heat until nearly smoking. Tip the diced ox heart into the pan, stir quickly to ensure the dice are thinly spread across the pan, then leave to brown without touching for 30 seconds. After that time is up, stir quickly again so the raw parts of the heart now touch the pan, then leave for another 30 seconds. When the second 30 seconds is up, decant the meat from the pan into another container to rest for a minute or two whilst you get everything together.

Whilst the heart is cooking, warm the tortillas on another frying pan over a low-medium heat.

To assemble, add a spoonful of tomato salsa to the base of each tortilla. Top with a mound of ox heart, half a teaspoon of pickled onions and a few coriander leaves. Eat immediately.