In the world of grilling, there’s rare, there’s medium, and (for those who don’t respect the meat), there’s well done. But for the aficionado, there’s the Pittsburgh black and blue—charred on the outside with a just-slap-the-cow-on-the-ass-and-send-it-to-the-dining-room center. Memphis Chef Kelly English takes this grilling technique and applies it to fowl, bringing out palpable flavor from the black heart of a duck and its rare pink chambers within.
Anyone can burn a steak. Just ask the Steel City mill workers who, back in the day, made their lunches by tossing raw steaks against vats of hot molten metal. But to char protein just right is an art form. “When using this technique, you have to take into account the temperature you want and the size of the protein. Things can get away from you very quickly,” says English, who owns Restaurant Iris and Second Line. Growing up in Louisiana, duck hunting was a natural part of his life. English watched his father save all the wild duck hearts (including the ones his friends would leave for waste) and bring them together in a single glorious gumbo. Years later, as master of his own kitchen, he searched for a way to reinvent one of his earliest and fondest food memories.
Getting the right char, crunch, smoke, and juiciness all at once begins with a ruthlessly hot grill. English simply seasons hearts with salt and pepper, releases them onto the grill, and pours duck fat over the hearts, so that the flames completely engulf them. They cook fast, so it’s all about timing. “This technique really works well with a fowl heart. You want to cook it as quickly as possible. The short cooking time imparts great flavor,” he says. “This is a steakhouse technique, and the people who order Pittsburgh-style are very particular about it. In this instance, I love the natural char you get from it while leaving the heart at a perfect medium rare.”
English finishes the plate with cauliflower purée, caramelized Brussels sprouts, persillade, and beurre noisette vinaigrette. And with the rare, toothsome hearts, it reads much like Argentine churrasco. So, fire up the grill and go char-crazy!
Pittsburg Rare Duck Heart Technique:
1. Clean duck hearts. Season with salt and pepper. 2. Get a grill very, extremely, seriously hot. 3. Throw the hearts on to the grill and immediately pour duck fat over them so that the flames completely engulf them. 4. Cook for 1 minute on each side. Pay close attention, as they cook quickly. 5. Remember that timing is everything when setting hearts on fire.