Horse meat makes comeback as healthy and trendy dish in France
By Peter Allen in Paris
Jan 24, 2007
Despite its tender flavour, there has always something unsettling about a plate of steaming horse meat.
Those contemplating a taste of the French delicacy have inevitably been put off by its associations with all kinds of equine treasures, from sporting heroes like Desert Orchid to darling childhood ponies. Now, however, Paris chefs and butchers are reviving the meat's fortunes by offering it as a trendy and healthy alternative to beef, pork and lamb.
The CIV (Centre d'Information des Viandes) meat information service has reported an increase in sales by specialist horse butchers, the so-called "boucheries chevalines".
Many thought that they were dying out in the 1990s, after their numbers fell to fewer than 1,000, but new ones are opening every day. Most of their produce ends up in expensive restaurants in the fashionable arrondissements much favoured by tourists from Britain and America, countries which have both traditionally viewed horse meat as taboo.
"One of my biggest challenges is to get British and American diners to try it," said Otis Lebert, a chef who runs the bustling Taxi Jaune, in the Marais district of Paris.
As he sliced up horse steaks yesterday, Mr Lebert said: "We produce all kinds of dishes with the meat, and it is much better steak than beef."
As well as a classic entrecote with fried potatoes, his signature dishes include a plump horse cut called "le poire" — or pear — which he presents with a generous slab of foie gras melted over the top. He expects to sell at least seven, priced at £14 each, every night.
"Horse meat is relatively low in fat and high in iron," said Xavier Panier, a doctor specialising in nutrition and homeopathy. "The food horses eat is extremely natural, and so their meat is easier for our bodies to assimilate."
Beef, and particularly British beef, is still associated in the French public imagination with health scares, including mad cow disease. Scabies in sheep has also worried lamb eaters.
While trichinosis — the parasitic disease — has affected fresh horse meat stocks in the past, it is generally viewed as a clean animal. For those who fear that they are being swamped by all kinds of Anglo-American culinary horrors, it is also seen as a reassuring link with the eating habits of old France.
The first Parisian horse butcher opened in 1866, for those who could not afford beef. When the Prussian Army laid siege to the city in 1870-71, it became a staple diet for a starving population.
Michel Brunon, who runs his eponymous butcher shop in the Beauvau covered market in eastern Paris, supplies horse meat to numerous Paris restaurants. He used to sell it solely as an "emergency cut" on a Monday — a day when traditional beef butchers shut up shop in France — but now it is on offer every day.
His assistant, Gaelle Bienvenu, who is 20, said young people were slowly becoming aficionados. One group of young professionals has formed a dining club for horse eaters, called "Le Pony Club".
Submitted by Pasadena Phil