Why don't we eat horse?

The Italians do it. So why don’t we? Embrace the horsemeat with these simple recipes.

New Statesman
Horse tartare topped with a quail egg, served in a Toronto bistro. (Photo via Creative Commons)

So we’re all in a tizzy about horsemeat after four major British supermarket chains - Aldi, Iceland, Lidl and Tesco - withdrew frozen “beef” burgers from their shelves when nine in ten were found to contain traces of horsemeat. The resultant media stampede (get it?) has seen an inquiry launched, knocked £300m off the share value of Tesco (whose whoppers were up to 29 per cent horse), and prompted some excellent jokes about unicorn patties and My Lidl Pony (get it??).

The findings have also sparked a collective stomach growl. Horsemeat? Not for our refined British palates.

But hay! (Sorry). What’s all the fuss about? The horse may be an excellent beast of burden and a trusty friend of man, but they also make pretty good grub. Many cultures have been eating mare, mustang and filly forever. In Asia and the Americas, over a billion people consume a million tonnes of the stuff every year. In China, horsemeat slivers might take a dip in a hotpot flavored with chili, while in Mongolia minced-pony may end up in a tasty sausage. Over in Toronto, horse takes an upscale turn for the tartare.

As of yet, the only European country to wholehearted embrace horse has been Italy.  Any supermarket in Rome will offer a selection of carne di cavallo, thinly sliced horse steaks: unctuous, gleaming and maroon.

And you know what, I’ll take that as a sign. I trust Italian food.  If they eat it, it must be good.

Horse is naturally vitastic meat, lean and rich in iron. Eat Horse –a website lobbying to lift the US ban on horsemeat production - points out that horsemeat contains 25 per cent less fat, nearly 20 per cent less sodium, and double the iron of high quality beef cuts.  

Its flavour has even been favourable compared to venison, a creature we’ve wholehearted embraced on our dinner plates. Not such a big leap is it, from Bambi to Black Beauty? Perhaps Tesco has inadvertently pulled the dumbwaiter in the right direction.

So in light of this exciting new step for Britain, I thought it prudent to highlight a few of the best horse-themed recipes available on the web, of which there are many. Metro: My Grocer - a Canadian website offering recipes, grocer’s secrets and “BBQ ideas” - hosts a tantalising selection of horsey delicacies including Horsemeat with Blue Cheese-Horseradish Sauce (restraining myself...), Fruity Horsemeat Roast and Pepper Horsemeat Tournedos. Tell me you’re not intrigued.

Here’s another nice one to get you started, from Kyle Philips at About.com: a nice weekend Pastissada de Cavala, or horsemeat stew. This traditional Veronese dish is seasoned with Italian wine and paprika, an homage to the Austro-Hungarian influence during its rule of Veneto, the Venetian heart of Northern Italy. Best served with polenta.

Pastissada de Caval

A Veronese horse meat stew.

 Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds (1 k) horsemeat, cut from the rump, or beef if you must
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves
  • A dozen coriander seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 ounces (50 g) lard or porkback fat
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 bottle full bodied, dry red wine - Purists call for Reiciotto Amarone or Valpolicella Superiore, but a less expensive red will work just as well
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon butter kneaded in flour
  • Flour
  • Paprika to taste (2-3 tablesoons, not too strong)

Preparation:

Lardoon the meat with the lard and slivers of carrots. Dice the other vegetables and put them with the meat and the spices except the paprika in a bowl; pour the wine over everything, cover and marinate in the refrigerator for three days, turning the meat occasionally.

Pat the meat dry (reserve the vegetables and the marinade), flour it, and brown it in the oil, in a pot over a brisk flame. Add the vegetables, and when they've cooked for a few minutes, pour the marinade over the meat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about three hours. Once the meat is done, remove it to a platter and blend the sauce.

Return the sauce to the fire, thicken it with the butter-flour ball, and season it to taste with paprika. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve, with polenta and the side dishes you prefer.

The wine? Amarone or Valpolicella Superiore, or a Cabernet-Merlot blend along the lines of Valcalepio.