Reata Cookbook Review
By Mike Micallef
Make Your Own Little Reata
No visit to the city of Fort Worth should occur without a meal at the Reata Restaurant. Shoehorned into bustling Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth since 2002, the restaurant has been revolutionizing Texas-style cooking, or as they call it, "Texas cuisine."
Let's not overlook the original Reata restaurant in Alpine, Texas, another shining star out in the Trans-Pecos region of far West Texas.
Years ago, we reviewed the excellent cookbooks from one of their previous executive chefs Grady Spears - A Cowboy in the Kitchen, Cowboy Cocktails and the now out of print Texas Cowboy Kitchen. (Texas cookbook lovers should own them all.) When we got our hands on Reata: Legendary Texas Cuisine by owner Mike Micallef, we were eager to see how much of the restaurant's dining magic is detailed on paper.
The good news is that the Reata cookbook is loaded with a surprisingly large portion of the restaurant's amazing menu. For 158 pages, the book steps through recipes for their Pan-Seared Pepper-Crusted Tenderloin with Port Wine Glaze, Blackened Buffalo Rib Eye with Raspberry-Chipotle Butter and the Chicken Fried Steak with Cracked Pepper Cream Gravy. If you've never been able to save room for the Dessert Tacos at the restaurant, the recipes for them are here, too.
Most of the fixed menu is all here, along with many colorful pages of food and landscape photography that properly captures the essence and flavor of modern cooking on the endless Texas plains and rough country of West Texas. The book also contains some useful general information pieces, for example, a page of photographs showing how to use your hands to guage whether a steak is cooked to the desired temperature without cutting into it.
That being said, this book comes with a shortfall: As a cookbook, it could have used more editing and recipe testing for home use. These recipes all appear to have been created in an environment where there are multiple ovens and multiple kitchen stations manned by a small army of qualified chefs.
Does your oven have the capacity to cook six 10-ounce beef tenderloins? Or six 8-ounce chicken breats? Yes, you can cut down the portions in these recipes, which we did when we made our selection. But even when doing that, there seemed to be an overabundance of ingredients, like cheeses, that went unused. Sizes of baking dishes frequently go unspecified.
Also, many recipes have several distinct components, such as the main dish, an accompanying sauce and more. Typically the sauce requires advance preparation, but it's presented on the page at the end of the recipe. Our main beef here is that the cookbook needs more editing. But it is perfectly usable, and the results in our case were excellent. So, do you seek adventure? Do you want to test your skills with complex, multiple-part recipes? If so, jump right in! And if you're feeding a lot of people -- a large dinner party, for instance -- these recipes are ideal.
My Own Private Poblano
We decided to take the plunge and prepare the Chicken Chile Rellenos recipe in our dinky kitchen. We spent the better part of a day making the ancho pepper sauce, roasting the poblanos, stuffing the peppers with cooked chicken, tomatoes and two kinds of cheese, followed by baking them. The result was an amazing chicken dish stuffed with multiple flavors -- light smokiness from the poblanos layered with the sweet tang of the sauce, along with the chicken and cheeses. This is definitely not a Monday night supper dish, but a company dish you'd be proud to serve your guests.
It's a memorable dinner. Once we unraveled how the recipes was organized, it was simple to follow the steps. The first thing to prepare was the adobo chile sauce, which when mixed with honey turned out tangy, not spicy at all. We also cheated and used the meat of a fresh rotisserie chicken from our local Austin-area Central Market grocery store to fill the poblanos.
For lovers of Tex-Mex food, this is the real thing when it comes to chile rellenos. Many restaurants get away with serving a stuffed green bell pepper. This recipe is the real deal by using a poblano pepper. This is a wonderful meal, and a choice example of the many delicious foods that can be prepared from this cookbook. You can also read our own, amended recipe for Chicken Chile Rellenos.
This cookbook could be just the ticket if you want to corner the market for unforgettable dinner parties in your neighborhood. Many of these recipes are calculated to feed four to six very hungry appetites. Catfish Cakes with Sweet Pickle Tartar Sauce uses a pound of catfish and makes ten cakes. The Barbecue Shrimp Enchiladas uses 1-1/2 pounds of fresh shrimp and feeds six. The Tenderloin Tamales with Pecan Mash, one of my favorite appetizers at the restaurant, uses 2 pounds of ground tenderloin and makes 20 tamales. (Making this at home would be a massive test of endurance.)
The Reata Restaurant's cookbook is a fine, beautiful guide to their sophisticated menu and a good peek into the rich level of tastes behind current Texas-style food -- ahem, Texas cuisine, that is.
- Texas on the Plate
by Terry Thompson-Anderson
- The Pioneer Woman Cooks:
Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl
by Ree Drummond
- Texas Country Reporter Cookbook
by Bob Phillips
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Mike Micallef is the president of the Reata Restaurant locations in Fort Worth and Alpine. Additional recipe and writing credits go to Tod Lewis, Russell Kirkpatrick and Misti Callicott plus chefs Juan Jaramillo, Fred Hamilton, Juan Rodriguez and Travis Purdin. Additional credits go to John Demers, author of Follow the Smoke: 14,783 Miles of Great Texas Barbecue and Julie Hatch.