high spirited mutton stew“Cooking red meat with beer can protect you from cancer!” screamed the newspapers a few days ago. A headline which must have brought joy to many a heart. When meat is cooked at very high temperatures as in grilling, it causes the formation of Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which when ingested, can lead to cancer. But using beer in the marinade can prevent the formation of these PAHs. Not that the fear of cancer kept people away from barbecues in the past, but this new discovery now gives you a very good reason to swig away at your beer.
Indians have from pre-historic periods favoured beer, beginning with the Gods. Indra was very fond of Sura, the beer of the era. The Vedas and Ramayan both talk about this drink. During his travels, Megasthenes too recorded the existence of a rice beer in India. Rice beer has traditionally been prepared by several indigenous tribes in India. In fact, the eminent English biologist, J.B.S.Haldane found that the consumption of rice beer by these tribes helped to keep diseases like beri beri in check.  Haldane was so enamoured of India that he emigrated here. He announced that he wanted to enjoy a lifetime opportunity of “not wearing socks”. I’m sure our beverages were also a great attraction! Rice beer was so popular among the tribals that the government has now had to start several de-addiction programmes. But what can they do about the elephants that are also hooked on the beer? The rampaging herds which attack villages for this beer have become a greater menace.
Closer home, the city where I live, Bangalore has been the Beer Capital of India; where pubs, breweries and microbreweries abound. Beer has always been seen as the drink for youngsters, not quite as dangerous as hard liquor. No picnic, lunch, brunch or barbecue is complete without the bottle being passed around. ‘ Beer and biriyani”, ‘Beer and kebabs’ are the standard menu for Sunday lunches at clubs and hotels.
Unfortunately when you eat out in Bangalore, very often the quality of the food does not match that of the beer. My father would often end up with an upset stomach after eating out, even at an expensive restaurant. On the days that he was not carrying lunch to work, he would order a plate of idlis, thinking that to be the safest bet. Till the day the idlis too resulted in a bad stomach. One Sunday afternoon, he was over at my house, alone and bored. He spotted a bottle of beer in the fridge and helped himself to it. When the rest of us returned later, I was aghast. The bottle had been lying there for months. We checked the dates and it turned out to have expired 11 months ago. It had tasted fine, he said. Knowing his system, we were worried. Turns out we had underestimated the true blue Bangalore constitution. The stomach which churned at a plate of idlis, happily digested the year-old beer with not a rumble or a complaint!
Cooking with beer in the marinade may seem weird, but is not really so. And it gives a very tasty result. For example, try this High-Spirited Mutton Stew.  You would be surprised. The beer tenderizes the meat very well, whichever the meat you choose – mutton, pork, beef.  It involves just one step, just throw all the ingredients into a pressure cooker and switch it on. No mess with frying, roasting, tempering- just a hearty, flavoursome dish .  The alcohol gets cooked out completely, so it is safe for anyone, even kids. The non-drinker will love the hint of beer flavor, while the guzzler may be disappointed. To supplement this loss, just drink some beer along. The flavours intensify with keeping, so make the dish a day earlier.
Have it with plain steamed rice or buns to sop up the gravy. And of course, pair it with Beer Battered Onion Rings for a crackling meal. But that is a recipe for another day!