Yesterday, I taught myself how to carve up a heart.
Ok, I’m being a little melodramatic. But it was so much fun! Before you call the cops, let me clarify. It was a pig heart that I bought for $3.34 at the supermarket. Not an actual person’s heart, literal or otherwise.
First, anything that involves an excuse to use my epic chef’s knife, the one that goes sssnnncckkkkzzzttinnggg, like an actual sword, is highly likely to make me calm and happy. I swear, that knife really sings. And for someone who loves cooking and epic chef’s knives, carving up a pig’s heart for the first time is really a joyous event.
It’s really not as easy as it sounds. Preparing a pig’s heart for cooking takes both brute force and surgical precision if you want to retain as much of the flesh as possible. It also takes an intuitive understanding of when to use brute force, and when to use a lighter touch.
Preparing a pig’s heart also bears some startling similarities to – quite simply – dealing with life.
Allow me to explain why.
First, before you do anything with your (pig) heart, you have to plunge your fingers into the main valves and remove any blood clots. Pretty much like how you have to be conscious of the smut, the baggage your (human) heart picks up over time – not even necessarily to do with romance, just being human and alive.
Then, you have to remove a thick membrane from your (pig) heart, a membrane that sticks to the tender heart flesh like – well, like skin. Because that’s what it is. In some areas, this membrane is so thin that it’s barely there, and in other areas, it’s thick and tough – like calluses on your hands. Just like your (human) heart, the pig heart has its own tough covering, and sometimes, it’s really difficult to see where that defense mechanism, that tough, callused heart-skin ends, and the tender, pure heart flesh begins.
At some parts, where the membrane is incredibly thick and tough, you have to sacrifice some of the heart-flesh if you want to cut away the tough skin completely. Again, pretty similar to the walls we build to protect ourselves. We get too comfy with them sometimes, and when it’s time to break down those walls, when we’re ready to show the world what our unsullied heart looks like, we have to destroy just a little bit of ourselves – the part that has forgotten it was not always next to a wall.
Once the membrane is off, you realize that the flesh of your (pig) heart is incredibly tender and light – and impossibly delicate, as well. It’s also covered with tendons, tough walls of the heart valves that need to come off next. So you don’t plunge your hand into the heart and try to rip everything out at one go – it’s impossible. You take it in small bits, so you slice the heart up. And that heart flesh is so soft, so impossibly light and delicate, that you have to handle each piece carefully. Tenderly, even. (Maybe that’s just me, though. I treat my meat with respect.)
Then it’s time to remove the tendons. More walls, more tough bits that were vital before, but now, are just a distraction from the pure, rich heart-flesh. These have to be removed. And these do not go easily. They don’t just need brute force, they need brute force and surgical precision. It’s like painting details on a canvas. Precision, precision, precision. Otherwise, you lose more of the flawless heart-flesh, and you already cut away so much when you removed the outer skin.
Again – pretty similar to what our (human) hearts go through and how we heal. Sometimes, you need the tough bits, because the tender bits won’t survive without them. The tricky thing is making sure you don’t cut too much of the heart-flesh away when you’re discarding the tough bits, the bits you no longer need because you’ve outgrown them, and they just distract people from the true richness of your own heart-flesh.
Then you come to the very, very last part. Fire.
There are two ways to cook a (pig) heart and keep it tender: grilling it quickly on high heat, like a steak, or cooking it at a low temperature for a long time, in a stew or broth. Both work.
Both are remarkably similar to how we cope with and react to cleansing change. Some of us like intense change, intense heat – it’s quick, it does the job, and it leaves the tender bits of your (human) heart intact. It also requires skill and awareness of what your own heart-flesh can and cannot endure. Some of us don’t do well with too much heat.
Some of us cope better with gradual, steady change – after a long time, after little steps and increments, we get there. Our heart-flesh is pure and ready, and still tender. It hasn’t lost any part of what makes it unique despite being subjected to constant, relentless change.
The great thing, though, about human hearts, is that – unlike pig hearts – they can be shared more than once. They can nourish friends, lovers and family indefinitely. And each time, that heart-flesh gets richer. It remembers. Each time you carve away the bits that you don’t need, each time you find yourself in that cleansing fire again, your heart-flesh comes out of it more than it was before. You come out of it more than you were before.
Assuming, of course, that you did what needed to be done and cut off the hard, callused bits of your heart that were making it less than it could be. Less than you could be.
If you want to understand how your heart works, ditch the self-help book.
Teach yourself how to carve up a pig’s heart.