Sunday 21 January 2018

And for my mane course I'll have horse d'oeuvres

Celeb chef Dylan McGrath cooks up some tasty handicap steaks

SADDLE DO NICELY: Niamh Horan tucks into her tasty horse steak in Fade Street Social
SADDLE DO NICELY: Niamh Horan tucks into her tasty horse steak in Fade Street Social


What's all the fuss about? We've been eating horse for the last few years thinking it was beef. It's in our ready-made meals and in our fast-food burgers. But is it really that big a deal?

At this stage, would it not be a lot easier if food manufacturers stopped telling porkies and we all began eating the continental delicacy, rather than trying to decipher what's what?

I'd like to have that choice.

So I asked celebrity chef Dylan McGrath if he would take on the challenge of not only rustling up Mr Ed for dinner, but making it taste lip-smackingly good.

He slapped his blood-soaked palms together, beamed and said: "Let's make it work."

The horse was Irish, from a man who sells it each week at his Paddy Jacks stand in the farmer's market in Dublin's Temple Bar. His sales have quadrupled since the scandal broke.

The horses are raised on his own farm in Co Laois and slaughtered in a certified abbatoir.

Especially for us, he brought some of the most tender cuts to Dylan's Fade Street Social restaurant for the meal.

The four bloody cuts, akin to black-red liver, were laid out in a raw "farmy" state on a red chopping board in front of Dylan.

"It hasn't been aged or loved, so its blood is still polluted," he said.

He picked it up and pressed it to his nose, inhaling deeply and letting the gory aroma swirl around his nostrils.

His eyes sprung open in delight. "It smells like a f***ing stable an' all," he said, like Ted Bundy sizing up his victim to see if she was fattening up nicely.

"The texture is livery – a bit like cheap venison. It's a darker meat because its muscles have been worked and worked – it's been flat-out running, unlike a cow. It's the same way that a hare and rabbit would taste different. Exercise makes its whole body tough. So it's going to take a while to tenderise."

I didn't know that a meat's taste came down to the animal's exercise regime, and just when I thought I couldn't feel any more atavistic, I began to wonder how different people would taste given their level of physical activity.

I must be losing it. Would I make it to dinner at all?

Out came a hot plate as Dylan sprinkled a bite-sized piece with salt before barely searing each side and popping it in his mouth.

"Mmm, gamey," he said, grinned.

I followed suit and swallowed it whole. It felt like what I can only describe as raw liver marinated in sour milk hitting the back of my throat at full throttle.

I ran into the bathroom and retched as Dylan cackled behind me through the swinging doors.

"And therein lies the challenge!" he boomed.

Summoning his kitchen staff, he got to work.

Like an orchestra conductor overseeing a master class, he called out the ingredients that would work in perfect harmony with the steak.

First he caramelised it with the veg, to promote that natural roasted meat flavour, then he braised it in port, red wine and chicken and veal stock and placed it in a oven at 190 centigrade for two hours.

Given the toughness of the steak, he opted for a creamy soft mashed potato for contrast then teamed it with onion, mushroom, kale, juicy pears and roasted peppers, topped with a generous amount of rosemary and parsley.

"Voila!" he sang, placing the dish on the table.

A large glass of rich 2011 Cotes du Rhone was poured.

Dylan took a couple of mouthfuls of horse, audibly chuffed with the outcome as he considered the scandal.

"I think the problem with the horse meat debacle is that people don't like to be lied to. If there's horse in it, they want to know there's horse in it. And that's where we are in the modern world. People felt tricked."

Your turn, he nodded.

I took a mouthful of the soft meat, smothered it with creamy mash and prepared to wash it down with a gulp of red.

But to my surprise it tasted . . . absolutely delicious.

"Ten out of 10," I said, delving in for a second bite.

It was like a rich, tender beef. If I had eaten it blindfolded next to a plate of beef I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference.

"Would you serve horse in your restaurants?" I asked.

"That dish?" He pointed with his knife and fork. "Absolutely. I would serve that dish all day long and I think people would enjoy it."

He gave it to another customer, an elegantly dressed blonde sitting at the table opposite, and she agreed, nodding enthusiastically.

Dylan thinks we need to get over our love-affair with the animal.

"It's caused such an uproar in Ireland because we are connected to horses in a different way," he said.

There he goes again. "Horse," I groan. "Would you mind not saying that word? It's taking away from my meal."

He laughed. "You see! Every time it leaves my lips you cringe, even though you're happily sitting there eating it, mouthful after mouthful.

"Look – you're continuing to eat it!"

I look down at my plate – it's almost clean.

I offered a wicked suggestion.

"You might get away with it on the menu, just don't tell anybody what it is," I said.

He almost leapt out of his chair.

"Well, that's the argument we're in right now. That's exactly how we got into this f***ing mess," he said.

He spoke from the corner of his mouth, mimicking two old men. "'Why don't you say f*** all and make a fortune?', said one farmer to another." He laughed. "And here you go again. You're no better than they are."

As for side-effects? Nothing, except a guilty conscience that night as I settled down to the Oscar-nominated Django Unchained.

As the hero trotted off into the sunset on his steed, the disclaimer flashed up: "No horses were hurt in the making of this movie."

Who would have thought, my dinner was even too much to stomach for Quentin Tarantino.

Irish Independent

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