Armenian bbq, or as it is better known in the West, “shish kebab”, is a defining staple of Armenian cuisine. In fact, barbecued meat on skewers can be found in national cuisines across the the entire region. What separates Armenian barbecue (khorovatz) from the others are the process of preparation and the social rituals that have formed around the event.
Armenian Barbecue Grilling Event
Khorovatz (also spelled xorovatz) is an event. It is prepared during special occasions and family gatherings. Much like American barbecue, it is prepared by the men on an outside grill. Traditionally the grill was a bed of coal or wood on the floor with stones to prop up the skewers above it. However, modern grills have mostly supplanted that practice. The skewers are long, flat and made of metal. The majority of Armenian families tend to have a set at home for just such an occasion.
The preparation is usually done by the male head of the house. He lights the coal or wood before guests arrive and will wait for the flames to die down in order for it to produce a nice, even heat across the grill. The women of the house will put the meat on the skewers, though the men will sometimes take part as well. Once the meat begins to go on the grill, the men will start flocking around the grill, engaging each other in conversation. When the meat begins to finish cooking, it is drawn from the heat and pulled off the skewer into a pot using a flat bread called lavash. The men that have gathered around the grill will usually have the first taste of the “fresh off the grill” meat (considered to be the best tasting).
Each will take a piece of lavash and wrap one of the bbq around it. Holding it in one hand, they will then take a shot glass of vodka that the head of the household has poured for everyone. They will toast the occasion and the preparer, drink the vodka down and follow it up with the barbecue meat. Eventually the women too will be called to sample the fresh-off-the-grill meat and perhaps take part in a toast. When the entire grilling has finished, everyone will gather back in the house and take part in a proper meal with the khorovatz as the main dish.
Armenian Barbecue Recipe
Traditionally xorovatz was prepared from lamb meat, the primary source of protein in the highland’s diet of Armenia. However, due to the more abundant availability of pork during the Soviet period, it soon became the primary meat. Other meats too have been used, particularly in the diaspora, depending on the availability of that particular country. Chicken, pheasant, fish and beef can all be substituted for the traditional lamb or common pork khorovatz. The meat will need to be marinated a day before the actual grilling. The meat will marinate in its own juices flavored with such things as cut onions, salt, black and red pepper, dried basil or oregano herb based on your taste plus a touch of corn oil. Mix and rub them on the meet. Store in the refrigerator for a day, not in the freezer. Carefully remove the onions before grilling the Armenian barbecue.
After the meat has been prepared on the grill, various vegetables can be grilled to accompany the meat. Bell peppers and tomatoes are usually what will follow. They will most of the time be peeled to allow for a more even grilling as well as to absorb some of the smoky flavor. Enjoy…