Texas Ingenuity History


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Texas Cusine: No chicken in chicken fried steak

Many traditional Texas dishes came from on-the-trail recipes conjured up or adapted at the chuck wagon kitchen. One of those dishes was something called "chicken fried steak." I don't imagine that any self-respecting Texas restaurant would open its doors today without chicken fried steak on the menu. But pity those poor northerners who don't understand that there is no chicken in chicken fried steak. For my dear readers who don't know, here's how it all came about.

Continues in the book...


Texas chili, spicy ambrosia

Another descendent from the trail is Texas chili. Yes, historians trace a spicy stew or soup that some call chili back to earlier origins, but true Texas chili evolved on the cattle drive and on Texas ranches. Here's how it happened: Cookie started (typically) with inferior cuts of beef (like with the chicken fried steak) and chopped it into morsels, and just in case it was getting to be a bit past its expiration date, he put it in his Dutch oven with plenty of water, suet, ground up peppers and chilies, and boiled the heck out of it.

Continues in the book...


Give me Tex-Mex and everyone will be happy

With all this connection to other Texas foods, there is bound to be a link between the trail and Tex-Mex foods. Here it is. In fixin' up gravy on the trail, Cookie sometimes mixed the chili spices into brown gravy to create a spicy "chili gravy" sauce (different from chili con carne) that could be poured over meat and tortilla dishes. A descendent of that spicy sauce is used in many of today's Tex-Mex dishes, particularly enchiladas. And that's the connection to Cookie. Without Cookie and the chuck wagon, there might not be any Tex-Mex food today. What a sad place Texas would be. Half of the restaurants in the state would have to close down!

In fact, the term "Tex-Mex" was originally used as a derogatory term for food that was not authentic Mexican.

Continues in the book...

Sizzling fajitas, it's a wrap

Once Tex-Mex became an established part of Texas cuisine, there were bound to be other Tex-Mex style dishes invented by ingenious Texans. One such recent addition to the Tex-Mex menu is fajitas. This dish is made from marinated, grilled skirt steak wrapped up with some sauteed onions and bell peppers, sour cream (and anything else you want), and served in a flour tortilla. The word fajita comes from Spanish word faja, for "girdle" or "strip" referring to the cut of meat. There are several versions of the story of how fajitas originated (all in Texas.) One report says that fajitas were cooked on mesquite coals as far back as the 1930s. Most people believe fajitas came about as a way to make a cheaper flank steak cut of meat more palatable.

It is reported that in 1969, the Roundup Restaurant in Pharr was the first restaurant to serve what we now call fajitas on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas, guacamole, pico de gallo (which, by the way, is translated "rooster's beak"), and grated cheese.

Continues in the book...

Nachos for all the world

Is there no end to the variety of Tex-Mex food? Last year your humble author visited a pub in Edinburgh, Scotland. Along with fish and chips, the menu included nachos. Texas innovation strikes again. The original nachos were actually invented in 1943, at a club in the town of Piedras Negras just across the Texas-Mexican border from Eagle Pass. Folks from the Fort Duncan Air Force Base frequented The Victory Club. One day, some officers' wives showed up for a snack and the maitre d' Ignacio Anaya couldn't find the cook - so he improvised a snack for the ladies. He cut some corn tortillas into triangles, put grated cheese on them, and heated them up in the restaurant's Salamander broiler. He sprinkled some sliced jalapeños on top and presented the dish to the hungry wives.

When the wives returned, they asked for the dish again - you know that snack that "Nacho" (Ignacio's nickname) had created.

Continues in the book...


Barbeque, Texas Style

Another example of a delicacy that has its roots in Texas history is Barbeque (also Bar-B-Q, BBQ, and other spellings). Now BBQ wasn't exactly invented in Texas, but it was perfected here over the past 100 years. Influences came from Mexican heritage as well as from Texas Germans and Czechs. (In fact, the word barbecue comes from the Spanish word barbacoa.) And although back East it is mostly the pig that is q'ed, here in Texas it is mostly beef.

Another difference in East and Texas BBQ is that the Eastern variety is often cooked up in big metal pots. When people immigrated to Texas, many of them didn't want to carry these heavy pots, and left them behind. That's why Texas BBQ is slow cooked over a fire (smoked) rather than in a pot.

It is believed that the origins of Texas style BBQ came when local butchers had to do something with lesser cuts of meat that weren't selling (such as brisket). They set up a smoker and soon the aroma filled the town and people came looking for a good meal. The butcher served up the smoked brisket on butcher paper (which is still the case at some restaurants.) With this beginning, Texas BBQ evolved into a process of cooking meat slowly and patiently.

Continues in the book...

The stories continue in the book Texas Ingenuity... For complete information on this and other Texas stories...