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Key Ingredient: Kai Zan's Vizconde twins make a bento box with pig heart

Challenged to create a dish with the pork offal, chef siblings Carlo and Melvin Vizconde prepare it three ways.


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The Chefs: Carlo and Melvin Vizconde (Kai Zan)
The Challenger: Jimmy Bannos Jr. (The Purple Pig)
The Ingredient: Pig heart

Pig hearts made the news earlier this year as a potential source of organ transplants for humans, after researchers successfully grafted a genetically engineered pig heart into a baboon. The offal has also been food for humans for centuries: it's part of a traditional dish in the UK called faggots, which also involves pork liver and belly; in the U.S. it shows up in "restructured meat products" like the McRib, and occasionally in dishes like stews.

Challenged to create a dish with pig heart by the Purple Pig's Jimmy Bannos Jr., twin chefs Carlo and Melvin Vizconde of the sushi restaurant Kai Zan were unfamiliar with the ingredient. "It's not traditional," Melvin says. "Japanese really don't use pig hearts. So we'll see how it goes. It's actually quite good."

"Chicken hearts I'm used to, chicken gizzards. Pig hearts—it's a new thing." Carlo says the ingredient "tastes pretty much like pork," but because it's a muscle the meat is very dense.

Melvin (left) and Carlo Vizconde - JULIA THIEL
  • Julia Thiel
  • Melvin (left) and Carlo Vizconde

The brothers couldn't decide on just one dish, so they made a bento box with a different preparation of pork heart in three of the box's compartments; the fourth one they filled with house-made pickled shishito peppers, gherkins, daikon, cucumber, and oxalis.

They started by braising all of the heart in sake, mirin, and soy sauce for several hours to tenderize it. Some of the braised heart went into takoyaki, traditionally balls of batter filled with octopus meat and grilled in a special pan; the dense texture of pork heart inspired the Vizcondes to substitute it for the octopus. Carlo also added cabbage, ginger, and tempura crunch, pressing all the ingredients into the batter, which he poured into the wells of the takoyaki pan. He turned the dumplings using a wooden skewer until they were cooked on all sides, then topped the takoyaki with wasabi mayo, takoyaki sauce (a combination of tonkatsu sauce and unagi sauce), and bonito flakes.

Pig heart, chopped into small pieces and fried until crispy, was also the filling for onigiri, or rice balls. Melvin pressed cooked rice into his palm, creating a pocket, and filled it with pork heart and shiso leaves before closing up the ball and sprinkling it with sea salt, sesame seeds, and bonito flakes, then wrapping a strip of nori around the onigiri.

The third preparation of pork heart was a curry: chunks of braised heart served with yam puree and carrots and apples in curry sauce. Melvin deemed the pork heart served with curry too chewy, but both brothers said the takoyaki was a winner and they'd consider putting it on the menu.

Clockwise from top: pig heart takoyaki, pig heart onigiri, yam puree and curry with braised pig heart, and pickles - JULIA THIEL
  • Julia Thiel
  • Clockwise from top: pig heart takoyaki, pig heart onigiri, yam puree and curry with braised pig heart, and pickles

Who's next:

The Vizcondes have challenged Aaron Mooney of Webster's Wine Bar to create a dish with shio koji, rice inoculated with specific mold spores and fermented with salt and water. It's an ingredient they use in a couple of dishes at Kai Zan. "It has a funky taste," Carlo says. "It's a great flavor."

Braised pig heart

Kill a pig, take out its heart, cut hearts in half. Clean out the blood clots and soak in milk for 24 hrs to remove excess blood. Simmer in braising liquid about three hours. Let cool completely in liquid, then remove and press between two pans with ten pounds of pressure overnight. Reserve liquid.

Braising liquid:
2 cups soy sauce
3 cups sake
3 cups mirin
1 bunch scallion
1 small knob ginger, diced

Curry sauce

½ cup diced green apple
½ cup diced onion
½ cup diced carrot
2 T wheat flour
3 T curry powder
3 T braising liquid
1 quart water

Sweat carrot, onion, and apple in three tablespoons oil until soft. Add curry powder and fry until fragrant. Add flour and cook until it has browned slightly. Add the braising liquid and water. Bring to a boil, then adjust to taste with salt and pepper. Add in diced braised pig hearts.

Yam puree

2 lb yam
½ cup milk
½ cup butter
½ cup heavy cream

Boil yam in salted water until soft. Remove skins and any brown spots. Puree with ginger and milk. Add it to a sauce pan with cream and butter. Cook for additional 20 minutes. Season with salt.


1 pig heart, braised
¼ cup ume paste
Furikake (to taste)
1 shiso leaf
Seasoned sushi rice

Dice braised pig hearts. Fry until crispy. Take seasoned sushi rice and mix with heart, ume, furikake, and shiso. Form into triangle shape.

Tsukemono (pickles)

1 daikon, cut into one-inch slices
10 shishito peppers with stem removed
10 spring onions
Turmeric juice
Pickling liquid:
1quart vinegar
1quart sugar
3 cups water
1/8 cup salt

Daikon: Salt daikon heavily for about an hour. Rinse. Submerge in pickle liquid. Add a quarter cup fresh turmeric juice.

Shishito: Pour hot pickling liquid over shishito.

Spring onions: Place on grill until completely charred on all sides. Remove charred peel and submerge in pickling liquid.

Tako yaki

Pancake batter:
340 ml water
2 eggs
1 t handashi
2T dashi
1T soy sauce
90g wheat flour
10g rice flour

Mix all wet ingredients with the dry using a hand blender. Using an oiled tako yaki pan, pour the batter into the holes. Add a small amount of cabbage, pickled ginger, and diced pig heart. Once set turn it over a quarter of the way. Wait 30 seconds and turn again. Remove. Top with mayo, bonito, and unagi.


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