Sunday Night Special: All the Pretty Horses
From scratch used to be a mystery to me. When grade-school-aged, I overheard my mom incredulously telling a neighbor, “Marva makes cakes from scratch. That’s what Ron expects.” It sounded like a dirty secret and I wanted to know what scratch meant. “Not from a box” was the short answer. I had no idea you could even make a cake any other way so this was a startling concept. Looking back, I think my mom was stymied by the idea of going through the extra effort to please your husband.
Time-consuming baking or not, Ron and Marva already stood out on our street. For one, they were the only black people for blocks (possibly miles). Two, Marva had multiple sclerosis and when she wasn’t shaking and stumbling down the cul-de-sac, holding onto signposts for balance, she was riding around in an Amigo. And possibly oddest of all, Ron was a nurse. If scratch was strange, a male nurse was practically inconceivable to me.
I like scratch now, but sometimes I like novelty even more. Hence, Sunday evening’s instant French-Canadian supper. While in Montreal over Labor Day weekend, we went nuts at run of the mill supermarkets and became fixated with fondue section. There was a freezer case with paper thin cuts of meat, cans of ready to heat bouillon and bottled dipping sauces. No prep to speak of. We even happened to have a packet of powered béarnaise sauce in the pantry to add to the readymade meal. Shabu shabu-style fondue (or steamboat, as they’d say in Singapore and Malaysia) is strangely popular in Montreal. Outside of the suburban Melting Pot chain, I’m not sure that cook-it-yourself meat is a huge American dining concept.
Cooking horses most definitely isn’t an American dining concept. Never having been much of a pony-loving girl, I guess I’m less sentimental about treating equines as a food source (I think pigs are much cuter and yet a plate of bacon doesn’t bother me). In addition to picking up a tray of pre-sliced beef, there was no way we could pass up the exotica like bison and yes, cheval, a.k.a. old gray mare. And apparently horses are having the best week ever. Later last night I stumbled on this horsemeat taboo article on Chow and then saw a bit on The F Word about horse milk being the new thing. Yes, horse milk.
Honestly, it was difficult to ascertain exactly what horsemeat tasted like. The broth was distinctly flavored and permeated everything dunked in it. Béarnaise isn’t exactly light either (Arby’s Horsey Sauce as appropriate accompaniment?) so any natural essence was doubly masked. It didn’t taste like beef, though if someone fed it to me blindly I would likely peg it as such. The raw flesh is much redder and deeper in color (in photo: note pale beef on the left and burgundy horse on the right). The texture is chewier, maybe slightly tangy (there was a chalky aftertaste that I noticed while trying to fall asleep a good four hours after eating. I doubt it had anything to do with horse and more to do with our poor meat handling skills. Our packs started defrosting while in the hotel mini fridge, and not only were we nearly charged for every item removed to fit in the frozen flesh but blood had leaked all over the remaining tiny bottles and snacks). I forgot to take cooked photos. I’m so not a dedicated documentarian when it’s time to eat.
Eating horsemeat freshly prepared by an experienced chef would probably be a fairer assessment of its charms (or lack thereof). But I don’t see that happening any time soon in NYC. Leave it to those freewheeling Canadians. I swear, if Americans knew what carnivorous horrors were going on up there, they’d build a 700-mile wall along our northern border too.