Updated: Dec 9, 2022
Venison heart is pretty much known as the gateway offal and for good reason. The texture is somewhat familiar to a "normal" cut of meat unless you overcook it. And the flavor is very mild unlike its offal cousins liver and kidney. Again, they key here is to not overcook the heart.
When it comes to cooking the hearts to the proper internal temperature, things are a little subjective. It comes down to what one likes texture and flavor wise. If you like a tender piece of meat and a mild taste, medium rare is for you. If you like a little bounce and stronger flavors, medium to well done is the ticket. For this heart ham recipe, I like to cook mine to around 140 degrees F. The texture is tender, yet firm enough to resemble a "normal ham" that folks are used to eating.
I'd be willing to bet a large sum of money that this heart ham recipe will convert almost anyone who claims that they don't like the odd bits of animals, into a offal lover. The color is gorgeous, the flavor is sweet & smokey and the texture rivals your highest quality pork ham.
Notes Before Beginning:
Filet the heart open creating a flat “steak”. With a knife remove all veins and webbing.
Roll the heart tightly into one solid shape. A tightly rolled heart allows for a more evenly cooked piece of meat. Tie the heart off in 2 inch sections with butchers twine. This will give you one solid mass which will again, give you even cooking. See below.
Step one: Brine the Heart
2 quarts - water
3/4 cup - kosher salt
1/4 cup - sugar
1/2 cup - maple syrup or sorghum
4 teaspoons - pink salt (Instacure #1)
1 bunch fresh lemon thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon - juniper berries, crushed
2 - bay leaves
Combine all of the the above ingredients into a pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Stir to make sure the sugar and salt have dissolved. Remove from the heat, let cool to room temperature and then place in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled.
Submerge the heart into the brine (weighing down if necessary) cover and refrigerate for five days.
Remove the hearts from the brine. Rinse the hearts under cold water and completely dry off with paper-towels. Place on a wire rack with a drip pan underneath in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.
To achieve maximum smokiness, I recommend cold smoking the heart for up to 4 hours. I know that everyone doesn't have the equipment to cold smoke. So as mentioned below, do the best you can to hot smoke between 150 and 200 degrees F if you're unable to cold smoke. You're basically looking to have the heart in the smoker for as long as possible (up to 4ish hours) before approaching your desired internal temperature (140 to 150 degrees F).
Step Two: Smoke The Heart
Note: If you can't reach cold smoking temperatures, simply hot smoke your heart between (150-200 degrees F) until the center of the meat reads 140 to 150 degrees F (depending on your preference) and skip ahead to (step 4). It won't have the same smokiness, but it will still be tasty.
Fire up your smoker and try your best to achieve a "cold smoking temperature" which is below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You can add a pan of ice that sits between the meat and the smoke to help lower the temperature. You can also try leaving the smoker door cracked a little to help lower the temperature as well. Cold smoke your heart for 4 hours.
Raise the temperature of your smoker to approximately 180 degrees Fahrenheit and smoke the ham for 1 hour. You're looking for an internal temperature of around 140 to 150 degrees F. I like the texture of a 140 degree F ham.
Remove the ham from the smoker.
Using either your smoker or oven, get the temperature to around 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Glaze the ham with your favorite ham glaze (mine is listed below) and cook for around 5 minutes. Apply another coating of glaze and cook for another 3-5 minutes.
Let the ham rest for at least 15 minutes and then slice thin.
My Basic Ham Glaze
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1/4 red wine vinegar