Monday, 18 February 2013

Horse Meat for revolutionaries!!!

THE last time I knowingly ate horse meat was at the home of Germinal Garcia in the Parisian suburb of Republique, in August 1964.  Germinal Garcia was a Spanish exile of anarchist persuasion who use to put up people like me and the Scottish anarchist, Stuart Christie, who worked alongside Germinal and other young libertarians in an organisation entitled the FIJL (Federation of young Iberian Libertarians) against the dictatorship of General Franco, the then ruler of Spain.  If I've got my dates right, August 1964, Stuart Christie himself may well have shared the dish cooked by Germinal, together with me and my wife.  Stuart, then 18-years-old, was later that very month to be arrested in Madrid and sentenced to 20 years in jail for his part in an attempt to kill Franco.

Horse meat had gained wide acceptance in French cuisine during the later yearsd of the Second French Empire.  The high cost of living in Paris prevented many working-class citizens from buying meat such as pork or beef, so in 1866 the French government legalized the eating of horse meat and the first butcher's shop specializing in horse meat opened in eastern Paris, providing quality meat at lower prices.  During the siege of Paris (1870-1871), horse meat was eaten by anyone who could afford it, partly because of a shortage of fresh meat in the blockaded city, and also because horses were eating grain which was needed by the human populace. Many Parisians gained a taste for horse meat during the siege, and after the war ended, horse meat remained popular.  In France, specialized butcher shops (boucheries chevalines) sell horse meat, as ordinary butcher shops have been for a long time forbidden to deal in it. However, since the 1990s, it can be found in supermarket butcher shops and others.

Despite the general Anglophone taboo, horse and donkey meat was eaten in Britain, especially in Yorkshire, until the 1930s, and in times of post-war food shortage surged in popularity in the United States and was considered for use in hospitals.   A 2007 Time magazine article about horse meat brought in from Canada to the United States characterized the meat as sweet, rich, superlean, oddly soft meat, and closer to beef than venison.   In the United Kingdom, the slaughter, preparation and consumption of horses for food is not against the law, although in practice it has been out of fashion since the 1930s and it is not generally available. It was eaten when other meats were scarce, such as during times of war (as was whale meat, never popular and now also taboo). The sale of meat labelled as horse meat in supermarkets and butchers is minimal, and most of the properly described horse meat consumed in the UK is imported from Europe, predominantly the South of France, where it is more widely available.

In Italy, horse meat is especially popular in Lombardia, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Parma, Apulia and the Islands of Sardinia and Sicily.  Horse meat is used in a variety of recipes: as a stew called pastissada (typical of Verona), served as steaks, as carpaccio, or made into bresaola . Thin strips of horse meat called sfilacci are popular . Horse fat is used in recipes such as pezzetti di cavallo. Horse meat sausages and salamis are traditional in various places .  Chefs and consumers tend to prize its uniqueness by serving it as rare as possible.  Donkey is also cooked, for example as a stew called stracotto d'asino and as meat for sausages e.g. mortadella d'asino . The cuisine of Parma features a horsemeat tartare called pesto di cavallo, as well as various cooked dishes.
In Veneto the consumption of horse meat is dating back at least till the period 500-1000 B.C., when the Adriatic Veneti settled in the region inhabited by the Euganei. They were a people migrating from Asia Minor through the Balkans; also known and appreciated for being excellent horse breeders. They bred horses for any purpose: towing and transportation, farm work, military uses and human nutrition too. Through the centuries they were esteemed suppliers of horses for the cavalry and carriage of the Roman legions. Horse meat consumption is a deep rooted tradition in Venetian cuisine and almost a pride in various regional locations. This tradition has developed several specialties and recipes. Horse meat is widely on sale in butcheries, hypermarkets, supermakets and minimarkets throughout the region, at higher prices than other kinds of meat, as it 's regarded as the most valued in absolute: a sort of formula one, more priced and esteemed than beef or pork. Some ultra-specialised butcheries offer only selected cuts of equine meat (horse, donkey and mule).

In the Province of Padua horse meat is a key element of the local cuisine; particularly in the area that extends south-east from the city, historically called Saccisica. Specialties based on horse meat constitute the main courses and best attractions of some typical restaurants in the zone. They are also offered among other regional delicacies at the food stands of many local festivals, related to civil and religious anniversaries. Most notable is the "Festa del Cavallo": a festival that is held annually in the small town of Legnaro, totally dedicated to horses, included their consumption for food.

Some traditional Italian dishes based on horse meat are:

• Sfilacci di cavallo: tiny frayings of horse meat, dried and seasoned; to be consumed raw, with some olive oil or lemon juice.

• Straéca: horse steak, variously cooked and dressed on the grill, pan or hot-plate.

• Bistecca di puledro. colt steak, similar to straéca, but generally softer.

• Spezzatino di cavallo. small chunks of horse meat, stewed with tomato sauce, onion, parsley and other herbs. Usually consumed with polenta.

• Prosciutto di cavallo: horse ham, served in very thin slices.

• Salame di cavallo: various kinds of salami, variously produced or seasoned, sometimes made of pure equine meat, sometimes mixed with others (bovine or swine).

• Bigoli al sugo di cavallo: a typical format of fresh pasta, similar to thick rough spaghetti, dressed with sauce like bolognese, but made with minced horse meat.

In Southern Italy, horse meat is common eaten everywhere - especially in the region of Apulia, where it is considered a delicacy.  It is often a vital part of the ragù barese in Bari.

Considering the traditional taste of the Yorkshire folk for horse up until the 1930s, only last Saturday I was up in York at the Jorvik Centre studying the Vikings.  It seems the Vikings grew wheat, barley and rye.  They made bread and porridge.  Sometimes they added peas to were fond of pork and beef but they also ate horsemeat and goat meat and they hunted deer for venison.  The Vikings also hunted whales and seals.  Perhaps it is not surprising that they should get a mention as one of the last places in England where horse had some popularity.

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