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Texas Deliciousness: Favorite Foods of the Lone Star State

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Most Americans have a love affair with food, but when it comes to Texans, our appetites…and our passion for flavor…is, well, bigger. All states can boast of local cuisine which shares the history and excitement of its home. Texas is no different. The Austin Chronicle explains, “One of the most interesting facets of the American culinary revolution of the past 50 years is our growing fascination with culinary history. It seems the more we learn about the ethnic melting pot that makes up the American table, the more curious we become about regional cuisines and the origin of specific dishes. Texas is the proud home of an authentic regional cuisine, and the provenance of Tex-Mex foods is currently a very hot topic with everyone from academic researchers to cookbook authors to magazine and newspaper food writers. In exploring the history of fajitas, several credible stories emerge, and all of them have roots in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It only makes sense that several people from the same ethnic group with roots in the same geographic area would come up with similar cooking techniques and names for the raw materials at hand.” Let’s take a look at some of the favorite palette-tempting foods of the Lone Star State.

Chicken Fried Steak

According to Dallas freelance writer Kim Pierce, “The roots of this crusty, fried slab o’ beef are fuzzy. One school argues it developed on the early range as a way to deal with a tough piece of meat by pounding it to tenderness. Dredging in flour and pan-frying, then smothering it with cream gravy made from the drippings, was satisfying and economical. Another theory holds that it’s an offshoot of schnitzel, a specialty of the Germans who settled Central Texas’ Hill Country. Either way, pan-fried is considered more authentic, while modern restaurants often take a shortcut through the deep fryer.”

Fajitas

As Javier Moreno of Buzz Feed explains, fajitas originated from the Spanish ranch hands in West and South Texas. According to the Austin Chronicle, “The first serious study of the history of fajitas was done in 1984 by Homero Recio as part of his graduate work in animal science at Texas A&M. Recio was intrigued by a spike in the retail price of skirt steak, and that sparked his research into the dish that took the once humble skirt steak from throwaway cut to menu star. Recio found anecdotal evidence describing the cut of meat, the cooking style (directly on a campfire or on a grill), and the Spanish nickname going back as far as the 1930s in the ranch lands of South and West Texas. During cattle roundups, beef were butchered regularly to feed the hands. Throwaway items such as the hide, the head, the entrails, and meat trimmings such as skirt were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay. Hearty border dishes like barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak) have their roots in this practice. Fifth-generation McAllen rancher and cookbook author Melissa Guerra heard very similar stories in researching her first cookbook, The Texas Provincial Kitchen, and her upcoming work, Dishes of the Wild Horse Desert. Considering the limited number of skirts per carcass and the fact the meat wasn’t available commercially, the fajita tradition remained regional and relatively obscure for many years, probably only familiar to vaqueros, butchers, and their families. Fajitas appear to have made the quantum leap from campfire and backyard grill obscurity to commercial sales in 1969.”

Barbecue

Wikipedia explains a little bit about Texas barbecue like this, “Barbecue in Texas is characterized by certain distinct characteristics which make it different from barbecue in other parts of America. Unlike forms of barbecue which use pork as the primary meat, Texas barbecue depends heavily on beef. Smoked brisket is one of the most common meats used, as is smoked beef sausage. Techniques and flavors associated with Texas barbecue show influences of European immigrants, especially Czech and German, as well as traditional African-American and Native American influences on the cuisine. Texas barbecue is often served with a side of Texas toast, a thick-sliced white bread.”

Kim Pierce seems to agree on the deliciousness of Texas barbecue. “Painstakingly slow-smoking beef brisket or pork ribs over wood-fired heat produces the apex of a food that predates history. Do not get a Texan started on who makes the best. Texans generally apply spice rubs and perhaps a last-minute mop, but purists don’t add sauce. It is probably true that the Hill Country Germans helped perfect this delicacy with their knowledge of smoking meats.”

Texas Chili

Chili has quite the history in Texas. Southern Living magazine tells the tale of a couple of bank robbers who loved the spicy meal. “The granddaddy of this Tex-Mex dish, chili con carne, is thought to have originated in the 1800s along the Texas cattle trails. Range cooks would commonly prepare a pot of fresh beef and wild-grown seasonings for the cowhands. Before long, the popularity of this spicy stew spread like cheese on a hot burrito throughout the trail towns. It’s even said that Frank and Jesse James would stop to eat a bowl before pulling their next bank job.

Texans obviously take their chili seriously, and opinions vary widely on what makes a perfect bowl of “red”–a common nickname for the meaty dish. Some add a variety of meats including pork, while others insist on beef. Many use commercial seasonings and powders for convenience, but purists grind their own chile peppers. And, yes, some cooks serve theirs with a side of pintos or other beans. The trick to any chili, however, is to slowly build flavor by letting your seasonings simmer awhile so they can fully cook. Otherwise, you might experience the bitterness of raw spices.”

As Dallas News explains, however, true Texas chili is bean-free. “In his book A Bowl of Red, the late Dallas newspaper columnist and chili aficionado Frank X. Tolbert immortalized the chuck-wagon cook’s dried-chile-and-beef stew. Real Texas chili contains no beans. Ever. Tolbert started the famous Terlingua Chili Cookoff and, with others, elevated the dish to competitive high art. Tolbert’s daughter, Kathleen Tolbert Ryan, owns the family restaurant that still makes a killer bowl of red. An important chili spinoff is Fritos Chili Pie. The old-time Frito-Lay handout recipe calls for tearing open a bag of Fritos, adding canned chili and topping with grated cheese and chopped onions.”

Other Little-Known Texas Food Facts

Speaking of Fritos, the chip itself is a Texas treat, invented in the Lone Star State and produced by the Frito-Lay Corporation based in…you guessed it..Plano, Texas. The very first hamburger was created by Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas who served it in his restaurant. Of course, there are many dishes associated with Tex-Mex, including tacos, nachos, quesadillas, chimichangas, burritos, and more. And what to wash down all of this spicy deliciousness? The oldest known recipe for sweet tea originated in Texas as well, best served in a Mason jar.

Sources:
Dallas News – http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/restaurants/headlines/20131120-the-10-most-essential-texas-foods–and-two-iconic-texas-drinks-to-wash-them-down.ece

Buzz Feed – http://www.buzzfeed.com/javiermoreno/foods-texas-does-better-the-anyone-else#.daPkE61vL

Austin Chronicle – http://www.austinchronicle.com/food/2005-03-04/261130/

Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_cuisine

Southern Living – http://www.southernliving.com/food/whats-for-supper/make-batch-texas-chili

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