Deer hearts are one of the most underappreciated cuts of venison around. While many hunters leave them in the woods for the crows and coyotes, the savvy ones know how to cook them up right. Properly prepared, deer heart tastes like the most tender beef tenderloin you’ve ever sunk your teeth into, without any hint of gaminess.
If the heart is cut properly into steaks, your guests will never know they’re eating organ meat. Of course, that only lasts until you tell them during dessert.
I wasn’t expecting deer heart for dinner. While it was hunting season, we weren’t out hunting. My husband went out to feed the boiler on a Monday morning, and 5 minutes later he came back through the front door armload of deer organs. As he dripped across the hardwood in the living on his way to the kitchen, my first thought was “Score!” My second thought was, “Holy mother of pearl, get a towel!” See, you can tell I’m not a home decor writer…
A hunter had just taken a deer a ways off and it had run onto our land, before dying about 100 feet from the house. When my husband went outside the hunter asked him if he could help drag the deer out, and offered him the offal (and cuts of meat later).
It’s not every day that a pile of fresh deer offal lands in the yard, but as they say, “When life gives you offal, make heart steaks…”
How to Prepare Deer Heart
The first step to making a beautiful deer heart dish is cleaning and preparing the heart itself. While you can just slice it top to bottom, there’s a much more elegant way to pull full steaks off the heart.
Beyond the meat, there are plenty of less tasty bits all around and throughout the heart. Veins, gristly fat and silverskin connective tissue all need to be removed before cooking so that the final cut will be tender and delicious. Here’s the heart as it comes out of the deer, once it’s been separated from the lungs and liver.
Start by removing the lining around the heart. That sounds intimidating, but really it’s mostly just a sack of connective tissues and fat surrounding the deer heart. It’s not really attached except where the vessels come into the heart.
Use your fingers to pull it away from the heart meat a bit and make a slit down the lining. At this point, you should be able to pull it completely back from the rest of the heart.
Once you’ve removed the lining, take a look at the end of the heart where the veins and arteries attach.
If you feel around a bit, and do a tiny bit of cleanup around that end it becomes clear that the heart chambers make up most of the volume of the deer heart. If you’d sliced the heart from top to bottom, every cut would have had holes in it, and it’s obvious that you’re eating a heart when you cook it and plate it up.
Stick a sharp filet knife into one of the openings at the top and make a slice out the side. This should cause a complete steak to pull away from the heart. Follow it with your hands and slice away the heart steak where it connects on the other side.
At this point, there’s a second heart steak remaining, and it can be sliced and opened like a book. Put your knife in again and give it a cut as I’ve done in the picture below.
After that, a second complete heart steak comes away and you’re almost done cutting the deer heart.
The final step is trimming the deer heart. Any remaining fat on the outside of the heart is hard and gristly and should be removed. A sharp filet knife will cut it right off.
Finally, look for any vessels or connective tissue remaining on any part of the deer heart steaks. Trim it up and you’re all done and ready to get cooking.
In just a few quick cuts, you’ve gone from this….
I know, it doesn’t look that great yet. It’s a cut of meat and the real magic happens in the cooking. It’s important not to overcook venison heart, just like you wouldn’t want a well-done beef tenderloin.
The cut below is was made using a recipe from Hank Shaw at Honest-Food.Net. Start by marinading the venison heart in a bit of olive oil, red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and spices. Then grill it quickly on a very hot grill for just a few minutes on each side.
Slice it thin, against the grain and deer heart plates up like any high-quality steak.
Deer Heart Recipes
While that’s one of the simplest ways to cook deer heart, if you’re looking for a bit more inspiration, take a look at these deer heart recipes.
- Classic Jaeger Schnitzel (battered and fried hunter cutlets)
- Fried Venison Heart with Buttermilk Gravy
- Grilled Deer Heart Kabobs
- Pickled Venison Heart