Recently from Europe has come news of a horse meat scandal that stretches from Great Britain throughout Europe. It is confusing as to whether the scandal is due to fraud in labeling, fear or repugnance at the idea of eating horse meat, or concern because some horse meat may contain the equine painkiller popularly known as bute, which has not been tested for its effect in humans.
Back in 1959 in Majorca, a nice Belgian woman invited me, my husband and our visiting guests, Paula and Alan, to dinner. She entertained us in her tiny second floor apartment and had prepared our dinner in a closet-sized kitchen. Actually, it had been a closet. Her name, like mine, was Josephine.
The main course was steak diane. It was delicious; the whisper of sweetness of the meat was perfect with the cognac mustard sauce. After our compliments, I asked her where she shopped for meat. I had never found such delicious and tender beef.
“But, of course,” she said, “It’s horse meat.” None of us had ever had horse meat before. She told me where to buy it and to ask only for the filet mignon. It was cheaper and certainly tenderer than the beef I could buy. Horse meat filet mignon became a regular treat at our table.
One evening we invited a couple for dinner and I served “steak diane a la Josephine.” Our guests loved the meal, and Dick asked me to tell them where they could buy such delicious beef. I responded, (a la Josephine), “But, of course, it is horse meat.”
Dick slapped his napkin over his mouth and hastily got up and headed for the bathroom . . . well, à chacun son goût.
Horse meat has been eaten in France since the late 1800s and is appreciated for its sweetness, tenderness and for being cheaper than beef.
People in other parts of Europe and the world also eat horse meat. But in most English-speaking countries it is taboo and even outlawed. For religious and social reasons it is banned in other countries.
Meanwhile people in over 80 percent of the world’s countries eat bugs – over 1,000 of them are considered edible. The custom is called entomophagy. Spiders are also a popular delicacy. In recent years western chefs have been experimenting with bug dishes and condiments. They furnish protein, vitamins and minerals, and fewer calories than other protein food.
My friend and fellow writer, Dr. Lenny Karpman, who is a guru of food in opinion, is currently writing a book about offal. One explanation of the word is that it is derived from “fall off” and in what falls off the chopping block as waste, and refers to the organs of animals, like the heart, liver, kidneys, etc. that were not considerable marketable (and in some countries still are not.).
If you are pre-World War II, offal is something your mother probably served at least once a week.
Recently, in the United States, President Obama quietly signed a bill that rescinded the ban on inspection of horse meat in slaughterhouses. There have been opposing opinions about what to do with abandoned or old horses. At first the animal lovers wanted a ban on either slaughtering them or shipping them to nearby countries to be slaughtered. That meant these animals would be left to die of starvation or worse. Lifting the ban means that parts of the horse can be used or sold. However, human consumption of horse meat is still not permitted in some parts of the U.S.
Horse meat is not sold in Costa Rica. Offal is hard to find, too. I have looked and failed to find calves liver, until finally I asked at the meat market on Avenida 3 near Parque Morazán. At first the young clerk said no, they didn’t have any, and then went to the back and came out with a couple of pieces. At the Residencia they would serve tongue from time to time, and it was my favorite meal. I once, with high hopes saw sweetbreads on the menu at an Argentinean restaurant. But all they did was grill them and they were a great disappointment.
Writing this column has given me the idea to keep asking at the meat counter where I shop for a choice offal in hopes that maybe they will save something for me. I am not quite ready for a roasted cockroach, but should it be prepared by a talented chef, I would reconsider. I don’t eat the beef in Costa Rica. It is a disappointment, but I certainly would consider a steak au poivre or diane made with horse meat.