Monday, January 23, 2012

Taboo? Italians and horsemeat

I was invited by a friend to eat horsemeat over the weekend. Although the idea arouses distaste and criticism for many in English-speaking countries, eating horse in many parts of Europe is still considered acceptable. The Italians, along with the French, the Belgians, the Dutch, the Germans, the Swedish, amongst others, to varying degrees, are all still ready consumers of horsemeat. The Italians have the highest consumption rates in Europe, although the tradition is concentrated in certain parts of the country - particularly in the Veneto, parts of Emila and Tuscany, Piedmont and parts of Puglia.

In Italy horsemeat is sold in specialist butcher shops. Ordinary butchers are prohibited from selling horsemeat. The meat itself is similar to beef, although many say it is slightly sweeter in taste and has a less complex flavour. That said, many Italians argue that it is a healthier option than beef, being both lower in calories and has a higher content of glycogen. Generally it can be treated in much the same way as beef. It also lends itself to curing (such as in bresaola and salami) and to eating raw. One of the most popular methods in Italy is a dish of steak tartare.

Horsemeat is something that most Italians will eat al momento. It does not keep as well as beef and therefore is best bought and used fresh on the day. Gigi had been nagging me for some time to try horsemeat with him. When I arrived he was busy preparing two plates. There are various recipes for preparing the dish but the principle is generally the same. A combination of lemon juice, garlic and chopped parsley is added to freshly minced meat. After a good seasoning the mix is allowed to rest for 5 to 10 minutes – during which time the lemon juice begins to cook the meat, explained Gigi. He also added a couple of small yet fiery chilli peppers – a personal preference.

There is little consensus when it comes to eating horsemeat. The tradition of doing so has existed in much of Europe for centuries. Although consumption rates have dwindled in the past years, it’s not a tradition that is going to disappear. I can understand the aversion that many people have to eating horsemeat. Yet, at the same time, in many parts of Europe eating horsemeat is deemed socially acceptable. I have to respect both viewpoints. It is the same dilemma that pervades over hunting. After ten minutes, Gigi gave the dish a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and pushed a plate in my direction. Now I had a decision to make – to eat or go home?            

Steak tartare

Serves 2 people
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: N/A

400gms lean horsemeat (or beef), minced
1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
A handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 small chilli, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whether you are using horsemeat or beef buy it fresh from a reputable butcher. It is probably best that you mention that it will be eaten raw. Choose a lean cut of meat such as rump. Have the butcher trim off any excess fat and mince the beef. Place the meat into a bowl. Squeeze over the lemon juice and add the chopped parsley, garlic, chilli (optional) and a grating of nutmeg. Mix the ingredients very well and divide equally onto two plates. Flatten the mince down with the back of a fork and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes. To finish, add a good drizzle of olive oil and serve with crusty bread and a simple salad.

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