I like to think of myself as a bit of a gastronomic thrill seeker. When it comes to food, I am a firm believer that you should try everything at least once…after that you don’t have to eat it again (so far only duck feet and Jaffa cakes exist on the list of things that will never go near my mouth again). Meat has always sat at the top of the list in the experimentation stakes, a few years ago I tried tripe in France, it was so foul I simply couldn’t force it down, but I put it down to the way it was cooked…badly.
There are some animals that people just will not eat. Out of the wild animals that I have served up on a plate, I thought I was pretty close to the line with badger and squirrel, but perhaps with horse I might just step over the line.
I have never understood why veal is seen as politically incorrect meat, why does it get peoples backs up? No one seems to give a shit about lamb? Personally, I can’t see the difference between eating a baby sheep or a baby cow, if anything the meat will be at it’s best. Would you rather eat an old animal or a young one? An old battle-scarred salmon or a fresh, young springer?
What’s the problem with horse? Us British folk have three animals that are strictly “off menu”: Dogs, Cats and Heese (the plural of horse…perhaps?). I can understand why Man’s best friend has a get out of jail free card, the way in which dogs look up to human folk is endearing. Cats on the other hand couldn’t care less about humans and only switch on the affection when they want something…so they are a little closer to the cooking pot. But a horse? I wouldn’t brand it as a pet, a mode of transport if anything, they live in fields the same as cows, sheep, pigs and chickens, the only difference is you can ride them. Technically you could also ride pigs and cows, but they would struggle to get you anywhere fast.
It seems to me that if Britain’s meat ethics would get it into serious trouble in desperate times. The Far East strikes me as the thriftiest part of the world when it comes to culinary diversity, they make the most of whatever is available. Clever people.
The laughable truth is that man was most likely eating horse, long before he was riding them; I myself have never got on well with the beasts. As a child growing up on Ashdown forest, Mountain bikes were outlawed because of the damage they did to pathways, but it was fine for a horse and rider to churn the rides into a ankle-twisting maelstrom of dangerous pot holes. This was the first incident that made me dislike the horse…it didn’t make sense, at the very least my bike didn’t leave large parcels of poo all over the forest. Clare used to ride horses, I believe she even bought/rented a beast at some stage, she somehow managed to get me on one the bastards on Dartmoor last year…unpleasant to say the least.
There is a lot of meat on a horse…so it makes sense to use the meat, anatomically, they aren’t very different from a cow, so why not? There are quite a few savvy countries that do take advantage of this wonderful meat: France, Japan, Italy and The Quebecois in Canada. No doubt there are others, but like Royston Vasey, the “special meat” is probably kept under wraps.
At the moment I am up in the mountains of Switzerland for the Christmas period, by chance, I have managed to thieve someone’s internet wirelessly! After enduring a 14 hour ball-ache of a train ride from Hossegor (I don’t know how Paul Theroux does it.) I had to spend midnight till 2am on an unarranged ‘stop over’ mincing about Toulouse station without the faintest whiff of a sausage anywhere. On the upside, although, the butchers and supermarkets here aren’t as well equipped as the French in terms of Offal, they do sell Horse meat…
The view from the 2nd new desk...sea to mountains, not bad!
I like Switzerland. My family have had a small mountain dwelling here since the 1980’s in the delightful village of Medieres about 20 minutes walk down the hill (40 mins up) from the wildly overpriced Ski resort of Verbier. It seems the Swiss village folk of Medieres have brandished their pitchforks accordingly to keep the heathens from encroaching down the mountain…this is a glimpse of real Switzerland. Yesterday I watched the old fella who keeps his cows in the barn below, banter with a couple of his comrades while they happily shared a bottle of Red without the luxury of glasses. Not to say they are a bunch of pissheads, well…no more than the rest of Europe.
Medieres: DEC 2009.
Where was I? Yes…Horse. Two years ago, whilst enjoying a white Christmas (something the UK might finally be blessed with), I tried horse for the first time. It was fantastic! If you came round for supper I could serve you a horse steak and you would think it was Aberdeen Angus, they are that similar. But the best thing about horse and, an interesting fact here: during the BSE crisis, fears of infected beef made the price of horse meat soar, as they are immune to the disease.
The French got their taste for horse during the Napoleonic wars, where the troops were advised to tuck into the slain horses straight off the battlefield, the soldier would remove their breastplate armour and fry the meat over the fire…voila! Much better than frog’s legs and snails: a dose of real protein!
The meat is finely textured, lean and firm, it is so much like beef that it should be treated, cut for cut, in virtually the same way. That is, if you’re lucky enough to find somewhere to procure it in Britain…fat chance! I opted for a bit of a mountain twist with my dish: Rosti, Cheese and pickles. It appears that my pickle affliction can be fed well in these parts…a tub or two to take home methinks.
There is only so much preaching I can do when it comes to weird and wonderful meats, an adventurous palate can take you, nay, get you into some bizarre situations: hacking apart an ostrich at a farm in Oudsthoorn, South Africa, dissecting a pig in the Cook Island or dismantling a badger in Sussex, these are the things that make meat an interesting part of our culinary culture. But by far the most exciting part is the who, what, when and where of the meat in question, every food escapade should be accompanied by a good anecdote to remember, that’s what makes it a true experience. In this case, sadly, it was nothing more than a gentle stroll down the supermarket aisle. Next time someone you know loses a horse, you could always offer to get rid of it for them, after all, it would save them having to dig a massive hole!
So, no good adventure behind this meat…the Swiss have made it too easy. But hey, at least I get to tap up their mountains for a dose of snowboarding action tomorrow, every cloud…