Pork heart pappardelle ragu

Simply offal

Simply offal

Offal Simple

This is an excellent, earthy dish. It’s not like eating liver or kidney, everyone is going to like this. This would be a great dish to start on if you’ve never eaten organ meat before. You can make this entire dish in under an hour if you really want to.

The flavor of pork heart, mushrooms, and browned butter complement each other perfectly.

Have no fear, heart is very clean and easy to work with.

Have no fear, heart is very clean and easy to work with.

Prep the Heart

A pig heart looks like, well, a heart. It is made up of extremely lean muscle cupping four empty chambers. The first thing to do is cut through each of these chambers so that you can lay the heart muscle out flat, as seen in the photo to the side.

In the photo you can see the heart muscle laid out reasonably flat. There will be a thin, translucent membrane covering it. You probably don’t need to worry because you’ll be pulverizing this in the food processor, but you may as well cut this membrane off because you’re going to have plenty of meat as it is. Don’t worry about saving the meat attached to the membrane, just slice it off with a big knife. You can cook this up later (it cooks very fast) and feed it to a pet dog or cat.

You will also find some very thin tubes sometimes in the sides of the heart chambers. Cut those out as well or just pull them off with your fingers. They come away easily. Again, it probably doesn’t matter so you can skip this step if you want.

Just a rough chop to fit into the food processor

Just a rough chop to fit into the food processor

Finely chopped in a food processor

Finely chopped in a food processor

Probably because it lacks any connective tissue found in most other cuts of meat, the heart muscle is quite easy to work with and cut through. All you need to do is chop it roughly into large pieces that you can fit into your food processor. Then pulverize it. It should be ground very fine but not into a paste.

Prep the Veg

Clean and rough chop or slice some flavorful mushrooms. You want something like shiitakes or chanterelles, preferably not the standard button mushroom creminis.

Also clean and thinly slice the white parts of two leeks. An easy way to clean leeks is to cut off the roots at the bottom and most of the green tops, and then slice the white part in half lengthwise. Holding it together by wrapping your hand around all the layers, swish each half around in a pot of clean water. This will work water into all of the layers and wash out any grit that has been caught in there. Then you can slice crossways.

Chop some fresh rosemary. The leaves of a few stalks should be enough. Don’t overdo it.

Brown in Butter

Add a half stick or so of butter to a skillet pan or stew pot, something with reasonably high sides and plenty of room on the bottom. Melt and cook the butter at reasonably high heat. Your goal is to just begin to brown the butter, but not to burn it. A heavier pot helps with this as it will even out the distribution of heat in the cooking vessel. We use enamel-coated cast iron, which is expensive but absolutely worth what you pay for it. You know your butter is beginning to brown when it is melted and starts making the whole kitchen smell really, really good, like butter.

After the butter is melted and beginning to brown, add the ground pork heart. At medium-high heat this will cook quickly. Stir often.

When the ground pork heart is cooked, which will happen quickly, add more butter and then add the mushrooms. Keep the meat and mushrooms moving around in the browned butter on medium-high heat, almost as if you were stir-frying. You don’t need to stir constantly, but stay alert. You don’t want anything sticking on the bottom of the pan and burning. If the mushrooms soak up all the butter, add another half stick or so. You can also turn the heat down slightly if you need to do so.

Yes, it smells amazing

Yes, it smells amazing

Cook the mushrooms until they begin to soften. Don’t try to saute and brown them. You want them cooked through and soft but not mushy and not sauted or fried. They should taste like fresh mushrooms that have been warmed and softened, not like fully-cooked.

Deglaze With Stock

Now add in pork or chicken stock to deglaze the pan. You need a cup or 2 at most of stock, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan to deglaze it. Lightly scrape the bottom of the pan with your spatula as you continue to keep the pork heart and mushrooms stirred.

If your butter is salted and/or your stock has salt, you probably do not need to add extra salt. Season to taste with salt and a little ground black pepper.

Add the leeks and fresh rosemary, stir again, turn down the heat to low and cover. Let sit on low heat until the leeks are tender. This is another reason why you don’t need to overcook the mushrooms before you add in the stock, since everything will continue to cook. By the time the leeks are tender, the stock will have been absorbed or cooked off. Chop a stick of butter into chunks and add it, stirring until the butter is melted.

Pop in the Pappardelle

To the final dish add fresh-cooked pappardelle pasta and mix well. The large, flat, egg noodles of pappardelle work best, but you could use farfalle or some other pasta with a large surface area. Don’t use something with a small surface area like spaghetti, or the sauce will just fall off.

This is a lightly sauced dish; you should add enough pasta to feed 8 people, more or less. You don’t want the pasta drowned in sauce, rather, each piece of pasta should just have flecks here and there of the ground pork heart, with a slice of mushroom in every few bites. A neat trick is to use a pasta server or slotted spoon to scoop pasta directly from the pasta water into the sauce pot. Don’t worry about draining off the water that is on the pieces of pasta. The small amount of starchy pasta water will help the sauce stick to the noodles.

Ask yourself why you wouldn’t add another stick or so of butter. Remember, the heart has zero fat on it. Mix again.

Serve with fresh-grated parmesan.

This is not a dish that is interesting to try. It is not a fun and inventive way to use up pig heart. Your kids are going to love this, and when it is gone you will start wondering where you can find another pig heart so you can make this again.

Tonkotsu Ramen

Homemade Tonkatsu ramen, chashu braised pork belly, chashu marinated egg, nori, mushrooms, scallion

Homemade Tonkatsu ramen, chashu braised pork belly, chashu marinated egg, nori, mushrooms, scallion

We made this delicious tonkotsu-style ramen soup with several pounds of pork soup bones from one of our pasture-raised heritage pigs. We mostly followed this recipe from honestcooking.com. (We don’t know the folks behind that website, but their recipe came up in a web search and looked good. It tasted good too!)

What follows are some notes from the process of making tonkotsu broth. This is a great way to use pork bones for a special occasion, like a New Year’s Eve dinner.

Crack and Boil the Bones

Tonkotsu is a pork bone broth. When we make it again we will just use pork bones. The recipe linked above calls for adding chicken bones, which we did, but the chicken bones didn’t add anything and could have been better used to make chicken stock. We used regular pork soup bones, not split pig trotters. Next time we will also crack the pork bones with a hammer or perhaps saw them in half to expose more of the marrow. If you do this make sure to wash the bones afterward to wash off any bits of bone dust.

We boiled the bones for 24 hours in our largest pot. There doesn’t seem to be any downside to cooking them this long. We did bring the bones to a boil first and then discard that liquid to get rid of any coagulated blood. This makes the broth look creamier and less brown. Honestly for us it was a waste of time as we would not have minded browner broth.

Aromatics

Along with the bones we boiled 2 large leeks halved and sliced, about 10 chopped up green onions, 1 large onion peeled and quartered, about 15 garlic cloves peeled and smashed, a half finger-length of ginger sliced (not peeled), about a cup of mushroom stems and sliced mushrooms, and 3 large pinches of salt.

If making this again in winter time (when else do you want your stove on for 24 hours?) we would leave out the green onions which don’t grow in our garden in this season and add an extra onion and more mushrooms, or perhaps some dried mushrooms which sometimes have more flavor.

Add ins

Ramen noodles of course. Cooked. Not the instant kind. If you don’t have real ramen, use thin wheat noodles and boil them in water with a handful of baking soda. Ramen noodles are alkaline wheat noodles, so cooking wheat noodles in baking soda water (which is alkaline) mimics some of the effect.

Sliced chashu pork belly.

Boiled eggs (marinading these in leftover chashu sauce really does make them even better). Our eggs come from our free range layer hens.

Sliced mushrooms

Fried garlic slices (and the oil you fried it in)

Nori seaweed

Vinegar (we used a Chinese-style vinegar made from rice and wheat bran)

We added sliced green onions but while they make for a pretty dish, they really didn’t add anything outstanding to the flavor. It’s probably best to add things that bring out or compliment the flavor of the tonkotsu broth.

Chashu braised pork belly

Chashu is Japanese braised pork belly. It is not cha shao (or “char siu”), which is a Chinese version of barbecue.

For our braising liquid we used garlic, ginger, onion, a few whole black peppercorns, several large spoonfuls of sugar, a splash of vinegar, 1/2 a cup of soy sauce, and 2 parts apple juice to 1 part water (how much braising liquid you need depends on how big your pork belly is.)

Get some pork belly

Pork belly is the same cut that bacon is made from. We encourage people who buy half hogs from us to get uncured pork belly and buy bacon from us separately. Yes, the bacon is a bit more expensive this way, but you know exactly how much bacon you are getting. (The size of a pig’s belly varies, of course, so some pigs make more bacon than others.) We would love to sell pork belly on its own, but because bacon is so popular we would have to put quite a high price on the pork belly to justify not making bacon out of it.

Roll it up

The goal is to cook this low and slow so that it braises and stays juicy and delicious. We set the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit but a pork belly is a relatively thin slab which will still cook quickly and dry out. If you roll it up tight and tie it with kitchen twine, this decreases the surface:mass ratio, which helps the pork belly retain moisture while cooking longer. It needs around 5 hours to cook properly but the longer it goes the better it is going to taste.

It might be even better the next day

Boil the braising liquid before using it so that the sugar dissolves and the flavors mix together. Braise the pork belly in a sturdy pot in the oven and turn it every hour so that all sides of the roll get to cook in the braising liquid. When it is finished slice off rounds. This is normally a main addition to tonkotsu ramen (made with pork bone broth). However…if you keep it in the braising liquid after cooking marinate the cooked chashu pork belly overnight in the refrigerator, you may find that it is even better the next day. It’s especially good if you pan-fry slices over high heat, as if cooking bacon, as the edges will get brown and crispy but the middle will remain soft and juicy.