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Making a Tradition of Serving Oyster Stew at the Holidays


America’s history with the oyster has been chronicled in a number of books, articles and websites, with a pair of standouts being Mark Kurlansky’s “The Big Oyster” and Robb Walsh’s “Sex, Death & Oysters.” It seems the Native Americans on the eastern seaboard had been eating oysters for several millennia before the Pilgrims and other settlers arrived, and they introduced their new neighbors to this seafood treat. The newcomers quickly became addicted to the bivalve’s briny charms, and the love affair continues to this day.

Oyster Stew

Oyster Stew

Within that culinary history is a smaller chapter on serving up oyster stew for Christmas Eve. The likely origin of this is steeped in Catholicism and the practice of not eating meat on the eve of the observance of Christ’s birth. But the ties are stronger than that, Stephanie Butler writes on history.com. In an article on this savory American tradition, she traces a lineage that goes back to Ireland and a simple stew made with ling. Lings aren’t available here, but oysters are. They share a similar taste and texture, so the substitution was made. And soon, the Christmas Eve menu was set for many families.

I’m introducing the tradition to my family this Christmas Eve. For years, while I was growing up, our whole family would be invited to an oyster stew party that a co-worker of my dad’s threw every year. I’ll be honest: I didn’t really care for the thin, milky soup when I was 7 or 8 years old or the odd taste of the seafood, but we were not allowed to say that to our hosts. We ate every last mouthful of oyster stew and thanked our hosts.

I began to appreciate the flavors more as I got older. And I’m more grateful to that couple, the Meyerhausers, with each passing year. I’m also grateful to my parents for forcing me out of my comfort zone when it came to trying such culinary treasures, but that’s another story.

There are so many different variations of oyster stew that recipes could likely fill a chapter of a book. Emeril Legasse, for example, includes Andouille sausage mashed potatoes in his version. The folks in South Carolina’s Lowcountry add peanuts. I prefer the much simpler style I grew up with, which features oysters gently cooked in warm milk or cream until they curl. You can use as many oysters as you’d like for taste, and vary the seasoning, even the garnishes, to your liking. Robb Walsh’s single-serving stew calls for one pint of fresh oysters. The traditional recipe from whatscookingamerica.net, uses double that amount, but for six servings, which provides a math equation I’d rather not do, except to say that the amount of oysters is sadly less. In our collection of recipes, we also include one that serves 50, in case you’ve got plenty of family and friends coming by. (A tip to the wise: If you’re making oyster stew for 50, make it a party game and have your guests help with the shucking – if they’re sober, that is.)

The basic oyster stew recipe is simple, which is what makes it attractive when you have presents left to wrap and possibly plans for services later that evening or in the morning. If you’ve never made it before, make sure you watch the process closely your first time through. You don’t want to burn the milk and you don’t want to overcook the oysters. What you do want are oysters swimming in cream with a helping of crackers – and tradition – seasoning each serving.

Oyster Stew Recipes

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Oyster Stew Recipes for One or 50


Oyster Stew recipes come in all servings, sizes and textures. Here are a series that show off the bivalves to their best advantage.

Oyster Stew for One

oysters tray“In Texas, oyster stew is a bowl of oysters with a little milk, not a bowl of milk with a couple of oysters.”

So says Texas food writer Robb Walsh in “Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook, with More Than 200 Recipes” (10 Speed Press, $25). Perhaps that’s why his version includes a pint of the briny bivalves into a single serving.

1 pint shucked oysters and their liquor
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup milk or half-and-half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus 1 pat
Tabasco sauce, for serving
Soda crackers, for serving

Pour the oysters and their liquor and the water into a small pot. Season with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Place over medium heat and bring almost to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the edges of the oysters curl. Add the milk and heat until steaming hot. Do not allow to boil. Stir in the 2 tablespoons butter.

Pour the stew into a soup bowl and top with the butter pat. Enjoy piping hot. Season with Tabasco. As you eat the stew, crumble soda crackers into the bowl.

Makes 1 serving.

From “Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook, with More Than 200 Recipes” by Robb Walsh

Traditional Oyster Stew

“The most important factors in preparing Oyster Stew are do not boil the milk and do not overcook the oysters,” according to whatscookingamerica.net. Be careful to avoid overcooking oysters, which causes them to become tough.

2 pints (about 32 ounces) small to medium-sized raw shucked oysters with their liquor (see note)
4 tablespoons butter, plus more for garnish
3 cups milk (a little added heavy cream can be added to make it richer)
1 or 2 dashes Tabasco
Salt, to taste
Pepper to taste
Minced parsley, sliced chives or sliced green onions (for garnish)
Oyster crackers

Note: The amount of oysters used may be varied according to your taste.

Drain the oysters, reserving their liquor. (I like to strain the oyster liquor with a fine strainer to remove any sand.)

In a large pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add oysters and simmer very gently for about 2 to 4 minutes or until the edges of the oysters curl.

While the oysters are simmering, in a separate saucepan over low heat, slowly heat the milk, cream, and oyster liquor (do not boil).

When the oysters are cooked, slowly add the hot milk mixture to the oysters, stirring gently. Season with Tabasco, salt and pepper.

Remove from heat. Serve in warm soup bowls and garnish each bowl with parsley, chives, or green onions and a generous pat of butter.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From whatscookingamerica.net

Oyster Stew for 50

Sometimes you just need enough to feed a crowd, assuming, that is, you have a pot large enough to hold three gallons of ingredients. This simple recipe comes from “Temptations,” the cookbook from the Junior League of Lansing, Michigan.

2 gallons milk
2 ounces salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 gallon oysters, shucked, with liquid
1 cup butter
Paprika, for garnish

Scald milk, but do not boil.

In a saucepan, add salt and pepper to oysters, cook over low heat until the edges of oysters begin to curl.

Pour scalded milk over oysters and add butter. Sprinkle top with paprika and serve immediately to avoid curdling.

Notes: Care should be taken not to overcook oysters as they will get tough if heated too long. Quantity makes this ideal to serve at a Christmas or New Year’s Eve party. The recipe is from Jim’s Tiffany, Lansing, Michigan.

Makes 50 (6-ounce) servings.

From “Temptations: Junior League of Lansing”

Oyster Stew with Potato

Oyster Stew

Oyster Stew

Mention the word “stew” or “soup,” and some cooks automatically get out the potatoes. So, it should come as no surprise that a few have even added them to oyster stew.

Cookbook author Morton G. Clark would have you believe that this is a common factor in oyster stews across Texas. In his 1970 “The Wide, Wide World of Texas Cookbook,” he writes, “Oyster stew, in Texas, as with similar shrimp dishes, often has potatoes in it, thus being somewhat like a chowder. But as it is also highly spiced and has a quantity of green onions in it, along with celery leaves, it has a Creole taste. This combination, it seems to me is very Texas.”

Yet I could not find another recipe for oyster stew with potatoes in it, despite looking in more than four dozen other cookbooks from Texas and beyond. Still, it would thicken the base, making it less watery for some, and the odd inclusion of pickling spices in the seasoning helped this recipe stand out.

1 rib celery, diced; leaves, minced
6 green onions with part of tops, sliced
4 large white potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium-size white onions, chopped
2 tablespoons mixed pickling spices in a cheesecloth bag
4 cups water
1/4 pound butter
1 quart whole milk or half-and-half
2 quarts oysters and their liquor
1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Salt, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste

In a heavy pot, combine vegetables with spices and water. Cover and simmer until all are very tender. Drain, reserving the liquid. Discard spices. Puree vegetables through a sieve. combine with reserved cooking water, butter and milk. Heat until butter has melted. Blend. Add oysters and their liquor. Cook gently until their edges ruffle and the oysters are plump. Season with Worcestershire sauce, salt and cayenne to taste. Serve immediately.

Makes 12 to 16 servings.

From “The Wide, Wide World of Texas Cookbook” by Morton G. Clark

Peanut and Oyster Stew

Peanuts and oysters together? Well, they both have shells, right? Bad joke aside, this soup features a classic combination that dates back to the 1840s if not before. Matt Lee and Ted Lee provide a little background — and a little updating — in “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen.” Here is the story in their words:

“The lovely notion of combining oysters with nutty flavors has been a steady current through Charleston cookbooks, a relatively recent example being the oyster and benne (sesame) soup in “Charleston Receipts.” One of the earlier examples, however, appeared in Sarah Rutledge’s 1847 “The Carolina Housewife,” in a recipe for ‘Ground-Nut Soup,” where the oysters played second fiddle to the groundnuts — the peanuts:

“To half a pint shelled ground-nuts, well beaten up, add two spoonsful of flour, and mix well. Put to them a pint of oysters, and a pint and a half of water. While boiling, throw on a seed-pepper or two, if small.

“We adore the simplicity and efficiency of her recipe and language: it plays out so plainly in the mind that you can almost see the stoneware bowl and apron strings. And yet it’s difficult to make the flavors sing, following the recipe as written. We began with her basic formula, but introduced a few ingredients that embolden the flavors while keeping the peanuts and the oysters — both — at top billing. We wrestled with he idea of adding other ingredients (like paprika, sherry, lemon peel) to jazz up the soup, but in the end decided that the minimalist approach suits the spirit of the peanut-oyster combination best.”

1 cup roasted unsalted skinned peanuts
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup very finely chopped celery (about 2 smaller ribs)
4 tablespoons minced, seeded jalapeños (about 2 small)
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups fish or shellfish broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 pint shucked oysters and their liquor (about 24 to 32 oysters), separated
Freshly ground black pepper
2 finely sliced scallions (white and green parts)
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Process the peanuts in a food processor to coarse crumbs and reserve.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When the bubbles subside, add the celery, jalapeño, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is evenly incorporated. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it looks like it is drying out. Add the peanuts, stirring for a minute, then add the broth, wine, 1 cup of water and the oyster liquor. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat down to medium, and simmer covered, stirring occasionally until the soup has reduced by about a third, about 40 minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Turn off the heat and add the oysters, stirring gently twice, and allow to sit for a minute. Serve immediately, garnishing each bowl with the sliced scallions and a lemon wedge, and including a few oysters in every portion.

Makes 6 servings.

From “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen” by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

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Robb Walsh Dishes Up Some Tasty ‘Texas Eats’


texas eatsRobb Walsh’s latest cookbook, “Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press, $25) is a delicious collection of recipes from across the state and includes many of the ethnic heritages that have added their unique spice to our cuisine.

Germans, Czechs, Cajuns, the Vietnamese and even Indian cowboys are included along with the vintage Tex-Mex, oysters, shrimp, chicken-fried steak and burgers. There’s even a chapter on the treats from the Menger, including recipes for its turtle soup and a version of its mango ice cream.

As is the case with many of Walsh’s best books, including “The Tex-Mex Cookbook,” the stories behind the collected culinary creations are as savory as the recipes themselves.

The recipe below comes from Walsh’s chapter on barbecue. It’s a great way to smoke chicken, bringing together the tang of Italian salad dressing, a slight burn from hot sauce, and the bittersweet punch of that Texas favorite, Shiner Bock. Plus, the rub called for is one you can change to suit your tastes or heritage.

This past week, “Texas Eats” was nominated for best American cookbook from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Bock-Brined BBQ Chicken

To keep barbecued chicken moist, you need to brine it or marinate it before you put it in the smoker. Here’s an easy marinade that starts with a bottle of Shiner Bock

8 cups hots water
1 (12-ounce) bottle Shiner Bock or beer of your choice
1/2 cup sea salt
2 tablespoons hot-pepper sauce
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground dried thyme
1 (3- to 4-pound) whole chicken
1/2 cup Basic BBQ Rub (recipe below)
1 (16-ounce) bottle Italian salad dressing
Barbecue sauce of your choice

Finish off Bock-Brined BBQ Chicken with the sauce of your choice.

Finish off Bock-Brined BBQ Chicken with the sauce of your choice.

Select a container that will fit in your refrigerator and is large enough to hold the chicken and the brine. Pour the hot water and beer into the container, add the salt, hot-pepper sauce, pepper and thyme, and stir until all of the salt has dissolved. Refrigerate the brine to cool completely.

If the giblets have been included with the chicken, remove them and reserve them for another use. Place the chicken on a cutting board, back side up. Using a sharp knife or poultry shears, and starting at the cavity end, cut along backbone. Pull the chicken open and cut along the other side of the backbone and remove the back. Put the chicken in the cooled brine, and place a weight on top of the chicken to keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Prepare a fire for indirect-heat cooking (the coals on one side only) in your smoker with a water pan. Use wood chips, chunks or logs and keep up a good level of smoke. The smoker is ready when the temperature is between 225 degrees and 275 degrees.

Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry, then rub the chicken all over with the rub. Put the butterflied chicken, bone side down in the smoker on the cool side of the grate and cook for 3 hours, mopping it with the Italian salad dressing every 30 minutes. Add wood as needed to keep the fire burning evenly. To test for doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of a thigh away from the bone; it should register 155 degrees. Alternatively, insert a knife tip into the thickest part of the thigh; the chicken is ready if the juices run clear.

To serve, cut the chicken into 6 to 8 pieces (for 6 pieces you’ll want 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs and 2 breasts with wings, or for 8 pieces, cut the breasts in half) and serve hot with your favorite barbecue sauce on the side.

Makes 4 servings.

Basic BBQ Rub

The German Texan barbecue rub is the most basic: just salt and pepper with a pinch of cayenne. Czech Texans like a lot of garlic, Polish Texans add garlic and marjoram, Alsatian Texans love coriander, Lebanese Texans put cinnamon in their rubs, and the Tejanos have to have both chile powder and cumin. Have fun!

3 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground dried herb of your choice (optional)

In a small bowl, stir together all of the ingredients, mixing well. Be sure to break up any lumps. Store the rub in a tightly capped jar. It will keep in a cool cupboard for a couple of months. Shake or stir well again before use.

Makes about 1/2 cup.

From “Texas Eats” by Robb Walsh

 

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Best Chef in Southwest Asia Perhaps?


The James Beard Foundation handed out its annual awards earlier this week, and, no, a San Antonio chef was not named best in the Southwest.

Bruce Auden, chef/owner of Biga on the Banks and one of the chefs who helped popularize Southwestern cuisine, was nominated for the sixth time. But the award was actually split between Tyson Cole of Uchi in Austin and Saipin Chutima from Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas. (Perhaps the voters read the category wrong and voted for best chef of Southwest Asian cuisine?)

Cole wasn’t the only Texan to pick up an award. Robb Walsh of Houston shared an award with Rick Bragg and Francine Maroukian for best Food Culture and Travel piece. They co-authored “The Southerner’s Guide to Oysters” for Garden & Gun, a publication that describes itself as being “a Southern lifestyle magazine that’s all about the magic of the new South.”

In other Beard Award news, the cookbook of the year was “Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy” by Diana Kennedy, who is either the most loved or most reviled cookbook author to deal with Mexican food. (For some of the latter, read what Walsh has to say about her in his “The Tex-Mex Cookbook.”)

Publication of the year was Edible Communities, which produces Edible Austin among other regional magazines.

The Beard Awards are the culinary equivalent of the Oscars. For a full list of the winners, click here.

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Bruce Auden Earns Another James Beard Nomination


Bruce Auden

Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks, 203 S. St. Mary’s St., is among the five finalists for best chef in the Southwest, according to the James Beard Foundation.

Auden has been nominated several times in the past for the award, which is the culinary field’s equivalent of the Oscars.

Auden is up against several Texas competitors, including Bryan Caswell of Reef in Houston and Tyson Cole of Uchi in Austin. Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas and Ryan Hardy of Montagna at the Little Nell in Aspen, Colo., are the other nominees.

Another Texan to make the list is Robb Walsh of Houston, who is nominated in the journalism division for Food Culture and Travel writing. He shares the nomination with Rick Bragg and Francine Maroukian for a piece in Garden & Sun titled “The Southerner’s Guide to Oysters.” They are up against Bill Addison for a piece in Atlanta Magazine on “BBQ 2010” and Matt Gross for an article in Saveur on “Tapei, Family Style.”

The journalism awards will be announced May 6. The restaurant awards will be announced May 9. For the full list of nominees, click here.

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Trevino’s Chile-Cheese Stuffed Burgers


“James Beard hated regular cheeseburgers,” Robb Walsh writes in “The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbarcoa Cookbook” (Broadway Books, $18.99). “In ‘American Cookery,’ he offered his own recipe with one cup of cheddar, Gruyère or blue cheese mixed with two pounds of ground meat along with Worcestershire, Tabasco, minced garlic and salt. The result was far superior to a conventional cheeseburger, in Beard’s view.”

Walsh discovered that the style of hamburger has become popular with plenty of Texas tailgaters, too, including one named Jacob Trevino, whose version follows.

You’ll find a variation at Timbo’s, 1639 Broadway. It’s called the Yellow Submarine and features, as the menu says. “jalapeño, onions and cheese stuffed inside 2/3 pound of meat. Sinfully delicious.” There’s also the lower-carb version, the Hot Burger Steak, served without the bun.

Trevino’s Chile-Cheese Stuffed Burgers

1 cup shredded Jack cheese, divided use
1 teaspoon minced green chile or fresh or pickled jalapeños
3 pounds ground beef
1 envelope Lipton onion soup mix
1 (2.25-ounce) can chopped black olives
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Divide the Jack cheese in half. Mix 1/2 cup with the minced chiles and set aside for the stuffing.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef with the soup mix, olives, Worcestershire sauce, egg and Parmesan as well as the rest of the Jack cheese. Divide the meat into balls. (Six balls will weigh just over 1/2 pound each; eight balls come out to around 1/3 pound each.) With your thumb, create a pocket in the center of each ball. Force 1/8 cup of the chile-cheese mixture into the pocket. Now seal the burger meat around the stuffing and flatten the ball into a patty.

Prepare the grill. Cook the burgers to the desired level of doneness, flipping as seldom as possible to keep the cheese from escaping through a crack in the patty. Serve the patties on toasted hamburger buns or telera bread with your favorite condiments.

Makes 6 or 8 hamburgers.

From “The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbarcoa Cookbook” by Robb Walsh

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Garlic Grilled Oysters


Grilling oysters oven pecan adds a smoky flavor.

“It was Drago’s in Metarie, Louisiana, that made char-broiled oysters famous,” Robb Walsh writes “The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook” (Broadway Books, $18.99). “Jimmy G’s on Sam Houston Parkway in Houston does a great job with them, too. Gilhooley’s does them over a pecan wood fire that gives the oysters a wonderful smoky flavor. Also known as barbecued oysters, these are made by putting a fresh shucked oyster on a grill and spooning in some melted butter and garlic; you can add Parmesan if you like.”

Garlic Grilled Oysters

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12 freshly shucked oysters
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Melt the butter in a pan, add the garlic and add salt and pepper to taste. Heat a grill. Put the shucked oysters over the hot part of the fire. When the shell gets hot, the oysters will quickly begin to sizzle. Divide the garlic butter among the oysters. Don’t be alarmed if the butter causes the fire to flare up; it ads a char-grilled flavor. Sprinkle Parmesan over the top after the butter, if desired. Serve immediately with crusty bread for dipping.

Makes 12 oysters.

From “The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook” by Robb Walsh

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Carrot Pepper Salad with Tex-Mex Ranch Dressing


Carrot Pepper Salad

“This brightly colored garlicky slaw tastes great with grilled chicken and pork,” writes Robb Walsh in “The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbarcoa Cookbook.”

The dressing makes all the difference. “Homemade ranch dressing is vastly superior to — and a whole lot cheaper than — the stuff they sell in bottles at the grocery store,” Walsh writes. “I make this stuff in a plastic quarter container and keep it in the refrigerator. My kids slather it all over everything.”

Carrot Pepper Salad

4 cups grated carrots
2 cups finely chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup Tex-Mex Ranch Dressing (recipe follows)
3 gloves garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Put the grated carrots and the chopped bell pepper in a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, combine the ranch dressing and the garlic, and mix well. toss the vegetables with the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or more. toss well and garnish with cilantro sprigs.

Makes about 6 cups.

From “The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbarcoa Cookbook” by Robb Walsh

Tex-Mex Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup best-quality buttermilk
1/2 cup minced red onion
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground Mexican oregano
1/4 jalapeño, minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Salt, to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, mayonnaise, buttermilk, red onion, garlic, thyme, oregano, jalapeño and green onions. Salt to taste. Cover and chill. The dressing will keep for about a week.

Note: Seed the jalapeño if you want to cut the heat.

Makes about 3 cups.

From “The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbarcoa Cookbook” by Robb Walsh

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Grilled Tomato Guacamole


Only use ripe avocados when making guacamole.

“A little grill char on the tomatoes and green onions adds a lot of character to the guacamole,” writes Robb Walsh in “The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook” (Broadway Books, $18.99).

Grilled Tomato Guacamole

2 tomatoes, hard stem area removed
4 green onions
4 ripe avocados
1 cup minced red onion
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and leaves chopped
4 teaspoons freshly squeeze lime juice
Salt, to taste

Put the tomatoes and green onions on a hot grill, turning often. Cook until the green onions have some color and the tomatoes are nicely charred, but not falling apart. Allow to cool, then chop the tomatoes and green onions.

Scoop out the avocados and combine the fresh with the green onions, tomatoes, red onion and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Season with lemon juice and salt to taste. mix the guacamole until everything is just incorporated, but still chunky. Serve with tortilla chips as a dip or on lettuce as a salad.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

From “The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook” by Robb Walsh

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Robb Walsh Takes Tex-Mex Grilling Past Fajitas


At the beginning of Robb Walsh’s “The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook” (Broadway Books, $18.99), there’s a photo of Fidel Castro eating Texas barbecue while on a goodwill tour that took him to Houston in 1959. A pair of detached-looking officers stand guard behind him. It’s a humorous slice of history that fits in with the sensibility of the author who has given us the indispensable history of “The Tex-Mex Cookbook.”

Grilling and smoking meat, after all, are what people from all walks of life, regardless of income, have done for millennia to prepare their food. So, a plate of smoked brisket would certainly appeal to the egalitarian nature in Castro. The rest of us would likely just hanker for more.

Yet it’s a perfect illustration of the ways in which Walsh is seeking to preserve as much of Texas’ culinary history as possible, in image, in story and in recipe. In this volume, he balances the three in savory style. “Grilling has long been a part of the lifestyle of the cattle raisers who settled this region,” he writes. “And while it was most replaced by frying and stewing in early Tex-Mex, grilling has experienced a revival. Since the 1970s, fajitas and other grilled meats and seafoods have slowly replaced combo platters as the most popular food in Tex-Mex restaurants and cantinas.”

All this occurred, Walsh says, while the rest of America was discovering its connection with the grill. So, it’s a perfect way to teach the rest of the world what we in Texas and its environs have known best for years, namely how to handle meat and fire to the best results imaginable. The answer could be as simple as Tookie’s Ground Beef, in which 6 ounces of bacon is ground into a mixture with 2 pounds of chuck, round or sirloin, or as succulent as Garlic Grilled Oysters.

It could also be a recipe as involved as knowing how to select the best, freshest cabrito and then how to fix it. “Great cabrito isn’t the easiest thing to prepare,” Walsh writes in a preface to his recipe for Grilled Cabrito. “Goat quickly develops a gamy aroma, so defrosting a frozen cabrito or buying a fresh cabrito a few days in advance and storing it in the fridge is a bad idea. Regios (people from Monterrey) meet the goat rancher at the farmer’s market and get their cabritos slaughtered a few hours before they intend to cook them. The closer you can get to this ideal, the better your cabrito will taste.”

That means I will likely never cook goat, but I hope to remember his tip when I dine out. If I see cabrito on the menu, I will ask just how fresh it is before ordering.

San Antonio plays its part in the tale, which includes our favorite bean burgers as well as the fajitas at La Margarita in Produce Row.

Tex-Mex grilling isn't just for fajitas.

As usual, Walsh incorporates his personal agenda into the text. And I say, more power to him. For years, he has attempted to elevate Tex-Mex to the status of other regional American cuisines, such as the Cajun-Creole dishes of Louisiana and the Southwestern fare popular in Arizona and New Mexico. but it hasn’t been easy. He has had to overcome decades of resistance to the fare. The blame he lays squarely at the feet of Mexican culinary icon Diana Kennedy, who “trashed the ‘mixed plates’ that were sold as Mexican food north of the border,” he writes. “Kennedy’s dim view of Tex-Mex was endorsed by her friend Craig Claiborne at the new York Times. Knowledgeable food lovers began to demand authentic Mexican cooking and to snub Tex-Mex. And as a result, countless Mexican-American families watched their restaurants go out of business.”

On a more lighthearted note, Walsh extends his story beyond barbecue and culinary politics to include, naturally, what we consume while the fire’s getting hot. So, expect tales of beer, including Blanco’s premium Real Ale, as well as a discussion of the importance of frozen margaritas in Tex-Mex culinary culture. (These sticky sweet icy drinks may not be my favorite, but they have made a lasting contribution that must be recognized.) There are also tales of great tailgating events in Houston, where the quality of the food will likely surprise you as much as it did Walsh.

Only toward the end, when discussing side dishes and salsas, does the text seem padded. Yet the author makes up for that with an excellent array of recipes, such as the Carrot Pepper Salad with Tex-Mex Ranch Dressing (don’t wimp out like I did and skimp on the pepper needed to fire up the homemade ranch), Texas Red Grapefruit Salsa and Grilled Tomato Guacamole.

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