Serve an American horse-meat and you’ll be ushered out of the kitchen and into a psychiatric institution, no doubt. But serve it to folks from Central Europe or Asia and you’ll find yourself praised for your culinary discernment. In his 1859 compendium The Curiosities of Food, Peter Lund Simmonds writes that the “ancient Germans and Scandinavians had a marked liking for horse-flesh. The nomadic tribes of Northern Asia make horse-flesh their favorite food. It has long been authorized and publicly sold in Copenhagen.”
Simmonds numbers himself among the admirers of horse flesh. He finds the consumption of this purportedly tender, succulent meat quite sensible, even economical. “With the high ruling prices of butcher’s meat, what think you, gentlemen and housekeepers, of horse-flesh as a substitute for beef and mutton?” Horse-bone soups provide more nutrition than their more humdrum bovine equivalent. And if nutritional value weren’t persuasive enough, there’s always monetary value. National consumption of horse flesh, Simmonds opines, would allow more materially-minded folk the chance to make a profit off of old, worn-out nags otherwise sold cheaply as material for glue and grease. He goes so far as to agree with an economically-minded Parisian correspondent who wrote that “8,000 horses die, it is said, in New York annually, or about 22 per day … but instead of fetching 17 or 18 dollars to press the carcass for grease, and to feed the hogs on to make pork for export, the price will be greatly enhanced for meat for home consumption.”
These unusual merits notwithstanding, peddling horse meat to the English housewife proves a tough sell. “These facts are at all events curious,” Simmonds writes. “Think of the prejudices to be overcome, and think how unreasoning is the stomach!”
If the idea of noshing a tender bit of the old bob-tailed nag intrigues you, try this recipe for horse-meat sauerbraten from the 1906 Kochbuch für Haushaltungsschulen (Cookbook for Domestic Science Schools). It makes a main course that’s sure to have you and your dinner guests chomping at the bit.
Sauerbraten von Pferdefleisch (Horse-Meat Sauerbraten)
1 kg horse meat
15 grams flour
40 grams onions, 1 bay leaf
80 grams fat
3/8 liter beer vinegar [can substitute wine vinegar]
3/8 liter water
Wash the meat and place in a heavy stoneware pot with the bay leaf and 8-10 peppercorns. In a seperate pot, heat the vinegar and water and, once hot, pour over the meat. Cover the pot with a towel and place in an airy, cool spot [or the refrigerator]. If the meat isn’t covered by the vinegar water, you must turn the meat every day to ensure all surfaces remain moist. In summer the meat can stand for 3-4 days, in winter 7-8 days. When the meat is ready, heat the fat in a deep, cast iron pot; place the meat in it and brown on all sides. Then sprinkle the meat with flour, brown a little, add some salt and the chopped onion. Then add so much water so that the meat is half submerged and cover the pot, letting it stew for 2-3 hours. After half the time has passed, turn the meat and add more water if necessary. When the meat is ready, take out of the broth, add cold water in which flour has been dissolved to the broth and cook the sauce until thick. Serve it with the sliced meat.