ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Horses for Main courses?

The big news this morning, apart from my helicopter lesson going badly wrong, obviously, was the revelation that some frozen beefburgers made and sold in the UK and Ireland actually contained traces of horsemeat. In some cases 25% 'traces'.

Now, I don't buy frozen value burgers from Tescos, and I've not been to Iceland since about the time it stopped being called Bejams, so I'm not worried that I might have inadvertantly eaten the stuff.

My immediate reaction was: Never mind the horse, the quality of the beef in those things was probably highly dubious!

I know, little predictable ol' me.

But, horse or no horse, cheap beefburgers generally contain the worst cuts of 'meat' from the worst cattle, padded out with additives and fillers and mechanically-recovered anus tissue. I bang on about this sort of stuff because I'm a fan of really good quality beef and really good quality burgers.

The initial media reaction was equally predictable - shock, horror, outrage! How dare they put this in our beefburgers?!? and so on.

And then, continuing the predictability, came the 'but why is it outrageous?!?' backlash with the good old unbiased BBC asking why Britain doesn't eat horses when we eat cows, pigs and other farmyard creatures.

I wasn't asked for my view for some reason, but one or two 'experts' had some, frankly, strange opinions and these rather bizzare arguments for why we don't eat it triggered a bit of friendly office debate.

Horse voices

Some of these views buggered belief - there was some vaguely plausible stuff about how horses are pets and working animals and we don't eat pets and working animals.

I'm so hungry...
But there has been a tradition of eating rabbit and oxtail in this country, which come from petting and working creatures respectively, no?

Then there was the nonsensical idea that we don't eat horse because we haven't given it a name to 'meatify' it, thus differentiating from the living creature like we have with pork, beef and venison.

Err... have you never eaten lamb? Or perhaps that most unusual creature, chicken?

Another ridiculous argument was that horse munching never took off in this country because, as a nation, we have historically striven to set ourselves well apart from those dreadful smelly French people and their strange eating habits.

Hmm... so the great Kings of England never liked their Chateauneuf or their Foie gras? Come on, France has contributed an awful lot to the gastronomic cause, and the fruits of their garlicky loins have generally been consumed enthusiastically by les gourmands Anglaise.

And it's not as though they ever ate énorme quantities of chevalines anyway. As far as I know it's always been a fringe, niche foodstuff on a par with, say, pheasant in this country.

As an argument it's the most pathetic one yet.

Fuck it, one might as well argue that Northern Europe has a long and dignified tradition of enjoying equine porn and we don't want to dishonour the memory of Bodil Joensen by taking things too far...

It's the Taste!

No, the weird thing was how they seemed to singularly ignore the great elephorse in the room - that horsemeat just isn't very pleasant to eat.

I've only tried it a couple of times, admittedly, but I found horse to be very sinewy and muscular, and the bits that were fatty were horribly gelatinous and lacked the sort of intense flavour compounds that make beef and pork fat such a special ingredient.

I just can't see why people would want to eat horsemeat, unless it was a necessity of economics, born out of desperation, and given that it wouldn't be particularly cost-effective to farm horses intensively for meat as opposed to, say, battery chickens, there is no need for the poor to eat it.

The worry, obviously, is that the horsemeat that found its way into the food chain at these processing plants in Ireland wasn't farm-reared, food-grade stuff from the Continent, but actually by-products of the adhesives industry, Grand National non-finishers who had been put down, or something equally untoward.

Which brings me back to the quality of the beef in these burgers, which is probably on a par with the rotting carcass of Dooneys Gate...

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