When you look for recipes for that classic Cuban dish, Aporreado de Tasajo, a beef stew that is famous and unique for its salty chewy meat, it will tell you to use dry salted beef, and the usual ingredients for sofrito: onion, green pepper, garlic, cumin and olive oil. What most recipes for Tasajo won’t tell you is that to make real Cuban Tasajo, you need to use horse meat instead of beef.
Tasajo, like Brazilian Feijoada, is a dish slaves were forced to devise using whatever ingredients were available to them, usually discards or cheap cuts of meat and vegetables. Tasajo is made with a type of beef jerky, beef that has been dried and salted as a preservative. It’s a throwback to the days before refrigeration, just like for years salted cod was a staple of many kitchens in the Western world.
Horse meat has a sweeter taste than beef, and for those who have the palate for real Cuban Tasajo, horse meat is a must ingredient. In 2009, South Florida officials saw a dramatic rise in sales of illegal horse meat. According to a 2009 article in USA Today, over a dozen and a half horse carcasses were found in Miami-Dade County that year.
Tasajo is great, but horse meat is not exactly legal everywhere
It is illegal in many States to eat or sell horse meat. In Florida, horse meat that has been marked and stamped as horse meat for human consumption is legal. But the price of horse meat is not cheap, and depending on the cut it can fetch ten times what beef commands. In some parts of Europe, like France and Belgium, horse meat is considered a delicacy.
Until 2007, horses used to be slaughtered in the U.S. when Congress stopped funding federal inspections for horse meat. The ban was lifted in 2011. One of the reasons the ban was lifted was because during the Great Recession there was over a 60 percent spike in horse neglect. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, approximately 138,000 horses were taken to Mexico and Canada for slaughter in 2010. This was almost the exact number of horses being killed in the U.S. before the ban in 2007. Currently there are no horse slaughterhouses operating in the U.S.
In 2012, the Canadian government stopped allowing American horses to be slaughtered in Canada because of insufficient medical records. Most of the horse meat is shipped to Europe. Starting this summer, the European Union will require lifetime medical records for all horses brought to slaughter.
Meanwhile, good luck finding a good Tasajo made of real horse meat in South Florida. Perhaps a trip to Cuba is in order, where guajiros (peasants) are not allowed to slaughter cattle, but can get away with slaughtering a horse.
Originally published in VOXXI as Tasajo, a delicious and traditional Cuban dish made with horse meat