Quick Recipes and Easy

Yay Or Neigh?

Gordon Ramsay, England’s foul-mouthed, fire-tempered master chef recently landed himself in hot water. Well-known for his many high-class restaurants and TV shows (including the American Hell’s Kitchen), Ramsay took some heat last May from fellow cooks, PETA, and the UK at large for his praise of horses as food on his well loved cooking show ‘The F-Word.’ After sending TV journalist Janet Street-Porter to sample horse cuisine, Ramsay himself tried it and the two praised the meat for its flavor and nutritional value. He also suggested a rise in horse consumption, to many Britons horror.

Meanwhile, over the Atlantic, a bill passed in Illinois banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption, effectively closing the last horse slaughterhouse left in America. According to bill sponsor Senator John Cullerton (D-Chicago), horses are just “different.” Domestic horse meat is already illegal in the United States, but the small DeKalb plant profitably served a huge international market.

Where is this market, exactly? Well, it’s just about everywhere in Europe, thrives in several places in Asia, and exists in a smattering of other countries around the world. They can’t get enough horse meat, which—unlike beef, mutton, or pork—has no less-distressing name to go by. Some clever sellers refer to it as “cheval” (guess how you say “horse” in French!).

Ramsay’s words sparked PETA UK protests outside his London restaurant, where entering customers loved the sight of men dressed as horses cavorting around a 1-ton pile of manure. In Illinois, both sides of the debate fought bitterly over the issue for years (“Wi-i-ilburrrr,” one opposing senator said in his best Mr. Ed voice). Message boards and blogs roundly condemn the eating of horse meat. Given all the fuss, why would anyone suggest eating horses in the first place?

For one thing, it’s nutritious. According to an USDA informational site (now down, but archived by the International Generic Horse Association), “cheval” (doesn’t that sound better?) is exceptionally healthy—100 grams contain just 175 calories, a whopping 28 grams of protein, and only 6 grams of stout. Compare that to 100 grams of beef, which has 288 calories, 26 grams of protein, and 19.5 grams of stout. That means your average 500-gram steak, if made from horse meat, would contain 875 calories—40% less than beef.

Then there’s the flavor, which Ramsey describes as lean, sweet, and “a small gamey” and has led to horse’s status as a delicacy in countries like Japan. It’s also versatile; during World War II, it handily replaced rarer meats in all kinds of recipes from casseroles to sandwiches (which is, incidentally, how people in France got such a taste for it).

Sounds excellent, right? Well, that’s why it’s so well loved. But despite all the benefits, cheval remains taboo in America and England. Animal rights activists point to the problem of transport—horses meant for the butcher’s block are usually driven thousands of miles for slaughter—while others balk at consuming such soulful animals. It makes sense, especially in the USA, where the horse has always been a noble companion. Icons like Black Beauty or Mr. Ed occupy the nation’s imagination, as does the classic cowboy riding his beloved pardner. Even when the thought of eating horse is entertained, it’s viewed as something done out of desperation, not culinary curiosity. Many Americans and English would no sooner eat horse than they would stew up the family dog.

Ironically, the shutdown of Illinois’ slaughterhouse may only make the situation worse for doomed horses, which will probably end up taking longer trips to Mexico and Canada before being place down. And while some consider eating horse—or dog, for that matter—unthinkable, other countries with less sentimental visions of the animal do it with gusto.

Will horse ever catch on in the US or the UK? Barring some catastrophic meat shortage, no. Fad meats like ostrich, emu, and buffalo delight in periodic surges of interest, but none have significantly impacted the meat market. And nobody even likes ostriches. Even if you’re curious about trying an Arabian or Mustang in your next stew, excellent luck finding it. Horse meat is an expensive import in the USA and a niche dish in Britain, and despite Ramsay’s urgings, it looks like it’ll stay that way.

If you manage to get your hands on some horse, it reportedly goes very well in casseroles, stews, and on the grill.

Sources:
St. Louis Dispatch
The Daily Mail
USDA’s What’s in the Foods You Eat Search Tool, under ‘Beef’
International Generic Horse Association
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