Offal has a bad name, chicken hearts being no exception. They’re often seen as waste, or perceived as tasting disgusting. But how many people have actually tried them?
If you’re interested in cooking offal, I recommend this fantastic book. It’s full of recipes for all the bits that other people throw away:
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Selling chicken hearts in London – a mixed reaction
Whilst running a barbecue chicken heart skewer stall – Cock-a-doodle-skew – at Maltby Street market in London, my friend Alex and I experienced a mixed reaction to the word ‘heart’. Some people would step back and loudly express their revulsion and some would politely decline. On the other hand, some members of the public, especially South Americans, were excited to finally find chicken hearts on sale, while a small percentage hadn’t tried them but were open to new things.
Fortune favours the brave
Once they had a taste, though, everyone was converted. Remember the heart is just another muscle in the body like the ones we buy packaged up in the supermarket so it should be tasted with an open mind with no preconceptions.
Here’s five reasons why we should be eating more chicken hearts:
1. Chicken hearts are meaty and delicious
The most important reason for me, and the reason we started Cock-A-Doodle- Skew, is that chicken hearts taste great and if you cook them right, they are as tender and juicy as fillet steak.
They are extremely popular in South America and Asia. In Brazil they are an essential part of Churrascaria, the barbecue joints where they are charred over charcoal. In fact, tasting them cooked this way by a Brazilian colleague was the inspiration for Cock-A-Doodle-Skew.
They taste similar to red meat or the thigh meat of chicken, stronger in flavour than the breast. Because of this they can stand up to bold flavours so are great marinated with things like chilli, garlic and spices and then cooked quickly over high heat.
2. Chicken hearts are nutritious
There are numerous health benefits to eating hearts. They are a good source of high-quality proteins and provide all the essential amino acids which carry out all sorts of crucial functions throughout the body.
They are high in iron which is needed to produce haemoglobin to transport oxygen through the blood, and zinc which boosts the immune system and helps heal cuts.
The tiny poultry pumps are also high in B vitamins which help with stress, fatigue and problems with the heart and blood vessels. So it turns out eating hearts is actually good for your heart!
3. Eating chicken hearts is sustainable compared to prime cuts
Put simply, we are eating too much meat and it is totally unsustainable. Producing a kilo of meat uses far more water than producing the same amount of vegetables, yet the appetite for meat is growing and water supplies are certainly not.
In my opinion, if we are going to take an animal to slaughter we should be eating the whole carcass, and throwing away good food is criminal. If these animals are being reared, slaughtered and processed anyway, eating the hearts doesn’t add any environmental impact whatsoever.
Furthermore, if we ate more hearts and other offal, they would be more readily available, as butchers would be more likely to stock them. This virtuous circle could have a real, positive impact on some of the most pressing problems facing the global population.
4. Chicken hearts are wallet-friendly
Compared to muscle meat, offal is cheap to buy. Free-range chicken hearts are about a third of the price of chicken breast and lower welfare is even cheaper (although I wouldn’t recommend it). Hearts remain juicier and have a lot more flavour than white meat so all things considered, they are an absolute bargain.
You can order chicken hearts and other offal from a good local butcher if you can give them a few days notice, and you’ll feel good when you get the bill.
5. Chicken hearts are quick and easy to cook
You don’t have to be Gordon Ramsay to enjoy delicious chicken hearts at home. Because of their size, they cooked very quickly and their meaty flavour goes well with almost anything. At Cock-a-doodle-skew, we grilled them over a high heat on the barbecue for a just a couple of minutes on each side. This gives them a delicious smokey flavour but similar results can be achieved on the stove in a griddle pan or skillet.
They can also be cooked sous vide, if you want to be very precise with the doneness. They can be marinated with your favourite herbs and spices in the vacuum bag overnight and then cooked at 60°C for 30 minutes. Once they’re done a quick sear in a hot pan will give them a crisp, caramelised finish. I will be posting a more detailed recipe so check back soon.
Go on…have a heart!
I hope this post has been illuminating and that next time you’re at the butcher’s counter you’ll think about some less beloved cuts, rather than the usual. The benefits are so clear!
Do you share my passion for chicken hearts? Or are you an offal-phobe? Let me know in the comments below…