As the horsemeat scandal rumbles on and on in the UK and Ireland, I thought I’d take a closer look at the horse butchers in my favourite market in St Germain en Laye.
It’s a very sparse stand, with only four very large, red, fatless, boneless cuts, a tray of chunks and another with rather lurid and unappealing saucisses and saucissons. There’s no attempt at seduction or presentation. No bows or plastic parsley or suggestions de menu here and, had it not been for last week’s news, I would not have stopped, faithful to memories of Rusty, my childhood pony, & finding the notion of eating my favourite animal pretty unpalatable.
The butcher, all thick mascara and diamond nose piercing, explains that, like most Bouchers Chevalins south of Lille, her meat is imported from the US and Canada and bought at Rungis.
Horse is a muscly, delicate meat to handle, spoils (she’s carefully cutting little black spots from a lump of filet as we speak) and goes off very quickly. There are no producers in the centre and south of France and she will not touch anything that comes from Eastern Europe, implying that less scupulous butchers might.
The North American supply is also the only way, she says, to be sure of proper animal welfare standards and therefore quality of her meat.
Her clients in affluent St Germain en Laye, are mostly over 60, “les petites mamies” as she puts it, who have been reared on horse meat and know all about its health benefits. The recession has kept her business steady, whilst beef declines and pork sales are up.
The cuts she’s selling are filet, sirloin and chuck, with offcuts for mince. The sausages contain pork “for fat, for taste” but by law must be more than 50% horse to avoid any competition with the pork butcher opposite.
I order 4 burgers to try out on the children, which she minces, flattens and wraps individually in cute pink-patterned paper, throwing in a piece of saucisson as “cadeau.” Hmm.
The burgers cook quickly and surprising silently, no fat spluttering, no shrink back (as Mary Berry would say, maybe) The meat is dark, remarkably juicy and slightly gamey. The popular adjective over the past few weeks has been “sweet” I don’t find it sweet at all, this is like tender venison, but bloodier and more satisfying.
My daughter tastes it reluctantly, she says it’s “horrible”, like “eating the smell of a horse’s stall.”
My giant, ravenous sons, spouting philosophy at my noble, intransigent daughter, devour the horse baguette sandwichs, dripping with cooking juices and garnished with a little grated comté and lettuce (no butter, ketchup, mayo or other lubricants needed) & declare it the most delicious steak sandwich they’ve ever had.
So what was simply a light-hearted experiment has found me a cheap, fast, no-fuss new way of making sure my boys get their twice weekly meat fix. And for convenience, well, I’d have some too.
Forgive my iphone snaps…