Monday, 18 March 2013

Feature: Horsemeat - yay or neigh?

Full Horsepower

The horse meat scandal refuses to die down. New revelations of contaminated products are coming out by the day and more and more retailers and manufactures are being shamed into apology. On the other side of the fence, London’s foodies are getting a taste for the stuff. Ben Norum questions whether it’s a meat to stay or if we’re all just horsing around.

Even though you might have said before that you’re so hungry you could, up until about a month ago you had probably never given much serious thought to eating a horse. If you had done, it was most likely in France or Italy. Or indeed just about any country around the world except for Britain. The meat is eaten as tartare, steak, salami and mince in places as varied as China, Kazakhstan and Mexico, as well as by our neighbours over the Channel.
As much as the ongoing scandal, which started when traces of horse were found in Tesco burgers, has caused mass disgust across the nation, it has also brought to people’s attention the uniqueness of Britain in not routinely eating the animal. Even Boris Johnson has weighed in, describing our disgust towards eating horse as an, “unusual scruple”.
So, it’s only natural that interest in the meat has piqued. That and the opportunity been spotted for establishments to make money out of the gimmick factor. We’ve already had Southwark pub The Lord Nelson put on Horse Burger Week, running the special burger alongside its usual range. Scout headed down to try it out at lunchtime and had to wait for a table; we noticed one person out of the whole room who wasn’t eating horse. (See our verdict over the page on p.22)
Prolific restaurateur Oliver Peyton also last week ran a one-off sold-out dinner devoted to horse, starting with tartare before moving onto sirloin steak and a tongue-in-cheek pudding of carrot cake served with oats, cream and an apple granite. Gamston Wood Farm which has a stall at Borough Market and is better known for selling exotic meats such as crocodile and ostrich, has now started to sell horse burgers - which it painstakingly points out contain no beef! - and have seen a big uptake.  
Flogging A Dead Horse, a dining club which has been running for several months now and hosted a pop-up in Covent Garden late last year was ahead of the curve and had already seen a very positive reaction to the meat from first-timers. Founder Caroline Roddis tells us, “there are many good reasons why people should eat horse, the most compelling of which are probably that it's both a delicious and very healthy meat”. As to whether or not the current events will have a lasting impact on its popularity, she’s not sure. “On the one hand I can see that this interest will encourage more people to think about it as a serious option that they can serve in their restaurants, particularly because of the meat's versatility”, she says. “On the other hand, it's still a fairly difficult meat to get hold of and I imagine that any venue that just wanted to do something gimmicky and attention-grabbing might not want to commit to it in the long term”.
As a healthy meat with half the fat of beef, ten times the level of omega 3s and a flavour that is similar but possibly slightly deeper and sweeter, it has all the right attributes to become very popular indeed. Whether it’s a yay or a neigh will really depend on whether or not we can get over the taboo of it.

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