Please, don’t be alarmed by the mentioning of chicken hearts in the title! This dish is definitely a favourite in my family and it is one that is very dear to me. I have fond memories of my Dutch-Indonesian oma (grandmother) regularly preparing a big amount of these aromatic, slightly garlicky, pan-fried little chicken hearts. When I say big, I mean big: every batch was usually enough to both feed half of the family and for everyone to take home some for dinner the next day – always scooped into plastic boxes from the humongous stash of miscellaneous containers that were washed and hoarded just for food-occasions such as these (my recipe here is for a more manageable amount).
Now, I’d like to tell you that this recipe is identical to my grandmother’s, but, as is the case with most Indische grandparents and their home-cooked dishes, there was no actual recipe with precise measurements for this dish (or any other, mind you). Oma would just cook most dishes more-or-less by heart every time, so when asked about this recipe some years ago, she merely disclosed that there should be “some” (meaning a substantial amount, but not a lot) of ground coriander seeds (she would say ‘ketoembar’, of course) and “a certain amount of garlic(powder)” (very uncertain) and just a “small blob” of tamarind paste (or was it a dash?). Eventually, after trying to figure out the right balance between all the ingredients oma had more-or-less told me to use and from my own memories of the flavour of her dish, I think I ended up with a version that is quite similar to how she used to make them (but never quite the same… obviously)!
Now, about those chicken hearts… I understand that the words “we’re having chicken hearts for dinner” might not excite everyone as much as they excite me (though, it should!). Undeniably, my grandmother was aware of that fact as well, seeing that whenever anyone – usually one of the younger family members, or unknowing dinner guests – would ask her what those odd-looking ‘meatballs’ in that huge pan were, my grandmother would simply reply that they were “kleine vleesjes” (meaning ‘little meats’ in Dutch), or that they first had to try said ‘little meats’ before she would tell them what they actually were. Both tactics seemed to work quite well as most people actually did really find them delicious and were thus less freaked out upon hearing what they were afterwards.
Indeed, despite looking a bit alien to some, chicken hearts really just taste like delicious, intensely chicken-flavoured chicken. So, if you are one of those people that are put off by the idea of consuming chicken hearts, simply think of them as ‘little meats’ (that’s how I will serve them when you come over for dinner at my house!) – I promise you that they are truly delicious and addictive!
Tip: You can serve chicken hearts like you would any other meat dish, but I like my chicken hearts scooped over some hot, steamed rice so that all the grease and juices from the bottom of the pan get soaked up by the rice. YUM!
My Grandmother’s Chicken Hearts (Indonesian Recipe)
- 1kg chicken hearts
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (or about a teaspoon of garlic powder as my grandmother would do)
- 1 teaspoon tamarind paste/purified tamarind (assem)
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds (ketoembar)
- 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Stir-fry the aromatics: Place a large wok, or pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the sunflower oil and let it get hot too. Add the chopped garlic and stir-fry for 20 seconds (don’t let it burn!), then add the tamarind paste and ground coriander seeds. Stir into a paste.
- Stir-fry the meat: Add the chicken hearts to the wok with the paste and add 1 teaspoon of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Sauté the chicken hearts over medium-high heat for about 8 - 10 minutes, until they are brown throughout and cooked through (cut one, or two in half to check, if you are unsure). Make sure the hearts don’t stick too much to the bottom of the pan.
- Brown the hearts: When the hearts are cooked through, turn up the heat to high and sauté the hearts for a few more minutes until they get a nice, darker brown 'sear' color on some sides.