Though often discarded by hunters, a deer’s heart is delicious and nutritious when properly cooked.

Long ago, Native Americans believed that eating the heart of a deer transferred to the hunter the animal’s strength and courage. Today, few of us bother to test that theory. Instead of keeping, cooking and eating one of the most delectable parts of the big-game animals we kill, we toss the heart in the gut pile with the rest of the offal and leave it for the coyotes.

That’s a shame, because venison heart is easy to clean, easy to prepare and delicious on the table. It’s loaded with B vitamins and protein, has little fat, and the flavor is very mild despite common misconceptions. Some people don’t eat it because they expect a muscle that never stops working to be tough and unsavory. But when properly prepared, venison heart is as tender as a piece of loin.

Heart is best eaten fresh, not frozen, within a day or two of the kill. To clean, split the heart in half and remove all veins, arteries, valves and fat. Rinse in cold water to remove all clotted blood, then cut out any damaged portions. The heart of a whitetail deer will feed two people of modest appetite. The hearts of elk, antelope, moose and other hoofed game animals also are delicious.

Cooking methods can range from simple to sublime. Many cooks slice the meat thinly, roll it in seasoned flour and fry it fast and medium-rare. Venison heart also is delicious grilled, baked, broiled, slow-cooked or prepared in combination with other foods. The results are best if you cook the meat medium rare to medium. If you cook it until it’s well done, heart tends to get tough.

Here are some recipes to get you started.

Venison Heart Teriyaki

Venison Heart Teriyaki, one of many delectable dishes that can be prepared using the heart of big-game animals such as deer and elk.

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

4 tablespoons teriyaki sauce

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 venison heart, cut in 1/2-inch slices

Salt, pepper

In a large skillet, heat the butter, teriyaki sauce and oil over medium heat. Add diced onions and cook until tender. Place slices of heart in the pan and cook 2 minutes on each side. Don’t overcook. Salt and pepper to taste.

Grilled Marinated Venison Heart

1 venison heart, cut in 1-inch squares

1 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Toss the pieces of heart in a mixture of the remaining ingredients. Place all in a zip-seal bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Drain the pieces and cook on a grill over a very hot fire, for about 1-1/2 minutes per side. Serve as an appetizer.

Sautéed Heart With Bacon, Onion, Wine and Tomatoes

1 venison heart, cut in 1-inch squares

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

4 strips bacon

1 small onion, diced

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup red wine

1-1/2 cups peeled, diced tomatoes

Many expect venison heart to be tough and unsavory, but proper preparation can turn this hard-working muscle into tender tidbits dinner guests will love.

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sauté the pieces of heart in hot butter melted in a skillet, along with the bacon and onion. Add the water, wine and diced tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 90 minutes, then stir in the sour cream and season with salt and pepper. Serve over rice or egg noodles.

Baked Stuffed Heart

1 venison heart

1/2 pound venison or pork sausage

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup milk

2 cups dried bread crumbs

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Slice open one side of the heart and stuff with sausage mixed with the herbs and spices. Truss with cotton twine to close, and place in a pot. Cover with water. Heat to boiling and cook 5 minutes. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 to 2 hours. Remove the heart, and wet with milk. Roll in bread crumbs and dot with butter. Repeat to thicken the coating. Roast in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, basting frequently with melted butter.