Horses for courses
La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid. Usually. Though I found revenge at its sweetest served rare but hot, and with béarnaise sauce.
When I was a boy my elder sister developed that curiously female attachment to horses, a phenomenon largely incomprehensible to many of us, but perhaps, as someone once suggested, a sort of biological preparation for dominating something large and slow-witted later on in life. Her bedroom walls were festooned with gymkhana ribbons and equine tack, and her bookshelves carried titles such as Here’s Horse Sense, From Saddle to Fireside and It’s A Good Life With Horses.
My sister kept her steed, a retired polo pony called Ricki, in a paddock just out of Hamilton. One day she suggested I give it a try, and against my better judgment I was helped into the saddle. Without warning, or provocation, the swivel-eyed brute sprang into a downhill canter, throwing me out of the saddle, with my right foot caught in the stirrup. I was dragged about 30 metres through a large patch of californian thistle which appeared to have been planted for that very purpose . . . because before I could retrieve my foot the horse turned and charged back up the hill through the thistles. It was clearly calculated, and the malevolent vegan must have committed every part of its tiny brain to try to injure me.
Furious and in pain, I rejected as a preposterous folly my sister’s advice that climbing back on was the perfect remedy. Not only did I want nothing more to do with such an anachronism but everything I saw or read subsequently about those sullen beasts merely strengthened my conviction that horses are limited only by their feeble mental capacity to overthrow their masters. Such was the grievance I nursed over the following 40 years that, if anything, any shred of sympathy or understanding of the human-horse relationship had evaporated . . . until a cathartic moment when I visited a younger sister in Paris, the gastronome’s garden of earthly delights.
She asked me what I would like for dinner. We had recalled that our father had to entertain a bishop in 1956 London. With post-war rationing, beef was still off the menu and the right reverend diner was allowed to believe the horse he was eating was the finest sirloin. He was effusive in congratulating my father for having found such a rare treat – a sin of omission if ever there was one, but a pretty good endorsement.
Given the French love of horseflesh it came time to even the score. “An excellent horse steak,” I replied. My sister, also a keen rider but an integrated Parisian of many years, cheerfully agreed. Her husband offered to prepare a sauce, an old family recipe from his native Béarn.
The verdict? Whoever said vengeance carried the seeds of dissatisfaction? Slightly sweet, deliciously moist and tender, the piece of horse rump “à point”, was washed down with a splendid burgundy from a family vineyard mon beau-frère bottles each year in his apartment kitchen.
Ricki and I are now fully reconciled. I no longer carry the ugly burden of revenge. And though I prefer my horses plated up, I bear them no ill, and I’m even content to watch my granddaughter ride one – from a distance.
As a footnote (and so my own experience can be as instructive for others, not least potential fellow hippophages), I include the recipe for that béarnaise sauce, which, despite my sister’s culinary brilliance, was the meal’s crowning glory. It takes a few goes to get right:
Reduce: ½ glass of red wine vinegar, ½ glass white wine, 2 Tb chopped shallots and 2Tb chopped tarragon. Strain and cool a little. Whisk in 2 egg yolks, 1 Tb water. Gradually add 125g cubed butter. Add 1 Tb chopped tarragon and chervil if available. Bon appetit . . . and giddyup.
Louis Pierard is a Hawke’s Bay-based writer and editor.