Unusual Spot for a Beer

Today the journal visits Armenia for the first time, and tries one the cuisine’s most prominent dishes, Tarragon Lamb Shanks.  Providing instruction, a site dedicated to that country’s cooking, Hegnineh, suggests a surprising addition to the lamb shanks’ braising liquid – a whole bottle of beer!

Although Armenia borders Turkey and is geographically, and to some extent even culturally, part of the Near East, by confession it’s largely Christian, and as such, the regional prohibition of alcohol is irrelevant.  As far as that goes, another neighbor, Georgia, actually is acclaimed for its wines.  Still, one scarcely expects a beer to make its way into any of the local recipes.

Culinarily, though, it has justification.  Not only does the beer soften some of the lamb’s gamier tendencies, which often discourages many, but its hoppy profile anticipates the wheatlike spelt which traditionally accompanies.

Sour cream is another unanticipated ingredient, and it adds a smoothness that reinforces many of the beer’s moderating properties.  Tarragon rounds out the braise, and ensures that the verdant hillsides are represented.  The herb isn’t a personal favorite, due to its mild suggestion of licorice, but the beer, etc., keeps this under control.  Besides, it builds nicely to the peppers and onion that crowns the spelt.

The braise not only tenderizes the lamb, but it tames the cut with its mildness.  For this reason, the beer belongs, even its inclusion seems more appropriate to a recipe found a continent away.  If a brew can make it here, it can make it anywhere…


Tarragon Lamb Shanks

For the spelt:

  • 1 cup spelt wheat (*1)
  • 2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced (*2)
  •  6 mini bell peppers, or one large bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste

For the lamb:

  •  2 lamb shanks
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 bottle of beer
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons dried tarragon
  • half a bunch of fresh tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
  • salt, to taste

Place lamb in a stockpot and add enough water to submerge the shanks in a couple inches of water.  Place over a medium-high flame and cook until the water boils.  Reduce the flame to medium-low and cover with the lid a bit askew.  Simmer for 30 minutes, until the meat is tender.

Turn off flame and, using tongs, remove the shanks to a separate plate.  Ladle a cup of water from the pot and discard the rest.  Thoroughly whisk the flour into the cup of liquid.

Into the now-empty stockpot, add the beer, sour cream, ground pepper and tarragon.  Stir to combine and salt to taste.  Using a whisk, slowly incorporate the flour mixture, continuously stirring so no lumps form.

Set the flame to medium-high and bring to a boil, the reduce flame to medium-low and let simmer.  Return the lamb shanks to the pot.  Simmer, partially covered, for twenty minutes, basting and turning the shanks occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan set over medium-high flame, bring two cup of water to a boil.  Add the spelt.  Reduce flame to low and cover.  Cook for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally, until the water is absorbed.

While the spelt cooks, set a small skillet over a medium flame and add the butter and the olive oil.  After the butter has melted, saute the onions, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly-browned, about seven minutes.  Add the sliced peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are soft, about four more minutes.

Divide the spelt among dinner plates, and top with some of the peppers and onions.  Plate the lamb shanks, too, and serve, pouring on some of the basting liquid.


1 – Spelt may be found in most larger supermarkets.  If you can’t locate it, try bulgur wheat instead.  Barring that replacement, couscous would be a good choice.

2 – You know me; I used two shallots.


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