June 29th 2011 On Saturday I called my friend Fiona to tell her about the Soho Food Feast, knowing she’d be interested. Sadly she couldn’t come, because she was off to Cherbourg for a couple of days. She asked if I’d like her to bring anything back, food wise. I replied, half jokingly, “Some horse meat“, not expecting anything to come of it… Yesterday, I had a phone call, from Fiona, saying that she was on her way back from Cherbourg and that she’d just bought some horse steaks and sausages from a Chevaline (horse butcher) and was on her way to the ferry. I’ve eaten horse before, but was nevertheless excited and arranged to meet her when she got back at 5.30 pm.
Fiona arrived with 2 steaks and 4 merguez (spicy north African) style horse sausages, along with photographs of Chevaline Brien and the lady butcher. I don’t exactly know what the cut of steak was, but the butcher had assured Fiona that it was very good steak. You can see photographs of the butcher on Fiona’s blog. We divided the spoils in half – I came home to cook and Fiona went off to a barbecue.
Horse meat isn’t popular in Britain now, though it was common (especially in Yorkshire) until the 1930s and it’s quite legal to kill it prepare it and eat it. Horse meat is however, quite normal and popular in many other countries, such as Austria, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Sweden, etc. In France you will see horse butchers in most towns – they are recognisable by their red or red and gold horses head signs hanging outside. Apparently the French developed a taste for horse meat from the Revolution onwards, when there was a shortage of other meat. Later, during the Napoleonic wars, soldiers were instructed to eat horse when food was scarce and the eating of horse meat and horse butchers was legalised in 1866.
I lived in Paris during the 1990s and was under the impression that the chevalines were in decline. Friends told me that older people still enjoyed horse meat, but the younger generation found it distasteful. However, these days eating horse meat in Paris is considered to be healthy and on the increase. I was intrigued by this clip where Janet Street-Porter encourages people to eat horse meat – it’s very lean meat, high in protein, Omega-3, vitamin B12, zinc and low in saturated fat. In all, it’s better for us than beef, apparently, and Gordon Ramsay is also a fan.
So what did I do with my steak and sausages? I fried the merguez in a little olive oil – they were very good – hot and spicy like other north African sausages, found in France.
I cooked the steak in a griddle pan and ate it with fried potatoes. It’s important to cook horse meat quickly, like venison, it doesn’t contain the fat that you’d find in beef, so if you cook it for a long time it becomes tough (no more than 4 minutes per side). While I let my steak rest for 5 minutes or so, I added a knob of butter, 2 pieces of finely chopped garlic, a little red wine and balsamic vinegar to the griddle pan, to make a sauce. The steak was one of the best I’ve ever eaten (including beef) – it was tender, had no gristle or toughness, was slightly gamey and I always think that horse tastes a little bit like horseradish – thank you Fiona! Further reading