Last January, my buddy Ben Pena went to Montana and shot a bison. He was very generous and shared a large amount of meat with me. I got a large assortment of steaks, roasts, and ground bison. And I also got the heart. To give you some perspective, a heart from a mature whitetail weighs about 8 to 10 ounces. This bison heart weighed 4.5 pounds.
I have had this heart in the freezer all this time because I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. That 4.5 pounds is a lot of meat, and not everyone in my family is as excited to eat heart as I am. The smaller deer heart it is just the right amount of meat for one person, and I usually cut it into strips and fry it with eggs for breakfast, or marinade it and grill it. One of the big problems with heart is that it doesn’t always reheat well, so when you cook it you want to make sure you are using all of it.
Heart meat is different than the rest of the meat on an animal. It is very dense and, if cooked too long, it can become very tough and chewy. When cooking a heart, I almost always opt for a high heat over short periods of time to produce a very rare or medium-rare piece of meat. I have braised heart on a couple of occasions and it does work, but it takes a lot of time to get the heart to break down and become tender.
With a heart this big, I wanted to cook it in a way that would allow me to use the leftovers without them becoming chewy. I decided I would try to make a taco meat with it and started looking through my cookbooks to find a suitable recipe. I have a Mexican cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte, and her recipe for Vension Dzik calls for shredded venison, which is then seasoned with sour orange juice, onions, chives, and radishes. It seemed like a good fit.
In order to cook the heart so that it would shred apart, I was going to need to cook it in the crockpot for a long time. How long, though, I didn’t know. I had braised a bison roast in the crockpot a few months ago and that took almost 15 hours, so I expected the heart to take at least that long. After trimming the all the vessels and fat, I cut the remaining muscle into large cubes (about 2 inches by 2 inches). I added enough water to cover the meat and set it on low for 12 hours. Twelve hours later the meat still wasn’t ready to shred apart so I added more time. And then more time. And then even more time.
In total, I cooked the heart for close to 24 hours before it shredded apart easily.
In the end I had about 3 pounds of shredded bison heart and was able to freeze about half of it for later use. After the meat was cooked, I marinated it in the juice and onions, which gave the meat a bright freshness. Coupled with some fresh sliced jalapenos, the combination of sweet, sour, and heat made these little tacos some of the best I have ever prepared.
Bison Heart Dzik
For the heart, I braised it very simply and seasoned it with cedar paper. Cedar paper is a lot like cedar planks and gives the meat a very unique flavor. If you don’t have a heart to use, any 4 to 5 pound roast would work.
1 bison heart
3 cedar sheets
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoon kosher salt
Water to cover
Place the cedar sheets in the bottom of a crockpot then add the bay leaves, oregano and salt. Place the meat on top and add water to cover the meat. Set the crockpot on low and cook until the meat shreds apart easily. Depending on what kind of meat you are using and what cut, cooking times will very.
In a bowl combine:
½ cup orange juice
Juice from one lime
3 table spoons of chopped chives
½ cup finely diced red onion
½ cup finely diced radish
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
Stir together and let sit for 15 minutes before mixing with the shredded meat. When ready to serve pour the juice on the meat and add a small handful of cilantro. Stir to combine and serve with fresh slices of jalapeno.