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You Gotta Have (No, Eat) Heart

By Melissa Wiley in Food on Mar 2, 2015 5:15PM

Corazón Anticuchos at Tanta Chicago

Scottish haggis, French foie gras, Korean fish head soup and Southern chitlins all represent classic regional dishes that help reduce waste at the butcher shop. You may have already sampled your share of sweetbreads at any number of restaurants, but more chefs are now challenging us to order an organ laden with enough emotional baggage to still evoke some doubts about swallowing it.

“It was only a matter of time until [Americans] began trying new proteins. In Peru, though, people have been eating beef heart for hundreds of years. For most Peruvians, heart is as common as a hot dog is in Chicago,” says Chef Jesus Delgado of Tanta, where corazón anticuchos, or skewered beef heart seasoned with salt and vinegar, are available as appetizers that faithfully replicate a food cart staple sold throughout Lima.

“I don't think it's ever been taboo to eat chicken hearts,” contends Chef John Manion of La Sirena Clandestina, however. “I just think that the majority of people grew up eating prepackaged chicken breasts or chicken goop made into deep-fried nuggets served with your choice of four sauces. We're so far away from the actual growing and processing of our food that actually consuming organs seems disgusting.”

“People are becoming more conscious of eating animals as a whole—rather than solely for the breast or tenderloin—and being less wasteful. At the end of the day, they also eat [hearts], like so many other parts of the animal, because they’re tasty,” says Chef Edward Kim of Mott Street, where we’ve personally savored the duck heart served with strawberries on a warm spring evening and found its texture both light and tender. Duck hearts, each no bigger than a baby potato, might make for fairly lean meat, but bigger hearts of bigger animals typically mean more fat.

Like all offal and many a succulent protein, beef and chicken hearts, chefs concede, are high in cholesterol while supplying generous helpings of vitamin B12 as well as iron. They also taste more akin to the meat we’re used to consuming than other offal thanks to the heart’s higher percentage of muscle.

Regardless of your feelings about the organ, preparation is quick and easy. For Tanta’s corazón anticuchos, for instance, Delgado simply turns the grill heat to high and gives the hearts a slight sear until their exterior looks crisp then adds a coat of Anticuchera sauce.

Chefs Kurt Guzowski & Thomas Rice of TÊTE Charcuterie, meanwhile, either grind their beef hearts into a pâté or slice them thin and cook them hot and fast until they’re medium rare. Similarly, Manion grills his chicken hearts in a few blinks of an eye for snap then adds a little acid. Their chewiness, he insists, is key to their appeal.

“If you’re lacking in iron or protein, eating hearts is the ticket,” Manion says. “Eating the still beating heart of your enemy also grants you immortality on the battlefield,” he also jokes.

“We live in a generation where many of us are taking photos of what we're eating and sharing them with as many people as we can,” reflects Kim. “We've really bought into this notion that what we eat is representative of who we are. It’s hardly surprising, then, that people are more open to seeking out unique foods that they believe express their identities.”

So you think you’ve got heart? Then eat one for a squeamish audience of friends if for no better reason. You’ll garner points for badassery and may even like the taste into the bargain.