The discovery of horse meat in U.K. packaged meals raises legal, ethical and health concerns.
How about the question of flavor?
I asked London-based chefs about their experiences of eating horse meat, which were far removed from the current scandal of horse flesh being illicitly substituted for beef. (That meat is being tested for contamination.)
In any event, there are animal-welfare objections to the transportation and slaughter of horses, which are sometimes hacked to death. Compassion in World Farming urges people to sign a petition to end live exports to continental Europe. I’ve no plans to tuck into Black Beauty anytime soon.
Here’s what the chefs had to say:
Eric Chavot (Brasserie Chavot, opening in March): “I ate it mainly during the ’60s and ’70s (in France) when I was growing up. It’s very high in protein, so it’s good for children. We always had ’steak de cheval’ every Thursday. But I was eating it one evening and my brother made the sound of a horse -- neigh -- and that put me off. I didn’t really like it after that. Do I think the British would choose to eat it if properly presented? No I don’t. Let me put it this way: Would you?”
Anthony Demetre (Wild Honey): “I can understand people being unhappy about being misled, but I can’t understand the furore about horse meat itself. Having a French wife, especially a Parisian, one gets accustomed to eating it. I remember going to my wife’s grandmother for a Sunday roast: It was the best bit of meat I had tasted for a long time. They didn’t tell me it was horse because they thought for an Englishman it would be taboo. It’s not too dissimilar to beef and it’s very lean. If there weren’t such a taboo, I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it.”
Chris Galvin (Galvin Bistrot de Luxe): “I tried it a long time ago in Paris, in a restaurant specializing in horse. It’s got its own distinct flavor, a bit deeper than beef. It was very tasty. I’d definitely eat horse again. It’s very good for you, but the main thing is to know that you are eating horse. This is a good wake-up call for people to know what they are eating.”
Henry Harris (Racine): “I cooked it on Newsnight on TV last month and it was better than the beef they provided. Good horse meat is quite delicious. It’s sweet, it’s very lean and -- in texture and absence of fat -- it’s closer to venison than beef. But it does have a density and sweetness that is unique. It makes a sensational tartare. If there was demand for it and it came from a good source, with decent provenance, I’d consider serving it, but I’ve no plans to. Also, someone sent me a video of horse-slaughtering and it was distressing.”
Mark Hix (Hix): “I like it. When I was in Alba last year, I was served horse cheeks braised in Barolo or Barbaresco and it was delicious. It was served with an apple puree. It’s a bit like beef. I don’t think our punters would go for it. It’s part of the culture in countries like France and Spain. In England, we tend to bet on horses rather than cook them.”
Pierre Koffmann (Koffmann’s): “If you don’t know you’re eating horse, you think you are eating beef. But it’s sweeter and leaner and very tender. It’s very nice. In France, you don’t find it so much in restaurants. Horse fat is the best fat to cook chips because the temperature of the fat can go higher than 190 degrees. If you served horse in London, some people would eat it but you would have protesters in front of the restaurant so that you would not achieve what you wanted to achieve.”
Bruno Loubet (Bistrot Bruno Loubet): “I ate it as a child in France when it was quite common. My mother used to get it from the local butcher who specialized in horse meat. People believed it helped to make kids stronger and I liked it very much. My mother sauteed it in a pan as a giant burger with garlic and parsley, then served it with a salad and sauteed potatoes. I doubt the U.K. market would accept horse meat because horses are considered as pets. If there was a guarantee on the packaging, with sourcing and regulation and quality control, it might eventually be accepted.”
Simon Rogan (Roganic): “It’s all right. I ate it when I was much younger and we used to visit relatives in France. Being young, I used to turn my nose up at it. Now I am a bit older, I am more willing to embrace new foods. We are obviously not as adventurous about food as our continental cousins. If history had been a little bit different, the British might have eaten horse: now it’s too late.”
Michel Roux Jr. (Le Gavroche): “Would I serve horse meat? Neigh, neigh. I hope some good comes out of this: That labeling is correct and there’s traceability and that the people who are to blame are held accountable. I have tried horse meat and while I don’t particularly enjoy the flavor, I’m not against it. It’s quite a sweet meat, slightly gamey, depending on the cut. But we should be looking at horse as an alternative to other meats, and who knows? The British were terribly squeamish about snails until quite recently.”
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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