Legends of Texas Barbecue and The Tex-Mex Cookbook Review


Original Cookbook Review by

Two Great Cookbooks from Rob Walsh

There are two cookbooks, both written by Texas food writer Robb Walsh, that will satisfy the appetites of those interested not merely in food, but hungry for Texas lore and culture as well. Written in 2002 and 2004, respectively, Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses and The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos cover the two major food groups that most people, Texans and non-Texans alike, associate with Texas: Barbecue and Tex-Mex.

Only the uninitiated and incredibly nave would think there isn't enough material on either subject to fill a book.

The back cover of Legends of Texas Barbecue promises "This cookbook won't just each you how to make Texas barbecue, it will teach you how to argue about it!" Texas barbecue is a tangled mix of complexities rooted in the various ethnic backgrounds of early settlers.

Southern barbecue is a proud thoroughbred whose bloodlines are easily traced. Texas barbecue is a feisty mutt with a whole lot of crazy relatives. The Southern barbecue style has remained largely unchanged over time. Texas barbecue is constantly evolving.

Walsh begins with a discussion of the pit itself (quot;How to Choose 'Em, How to Use 'Em; Tools You'll Need; Fuels; Starting a Fire; Cooking Temperatures"), throws in a chapter called Tips from the Trophy Winners, which includes recipes, a chapter titled The Battle over Sauce and then ticks off the geographical and cultural influences that have created regional barbecue in Texas.

There's a glossary, a listing of mail order sources, a Texas Barbecue Cook-Off Calendar and more.

If all you want to do is learn how to cook barbecue, this is a great book. If you want to learn how to cook barbecue and, at the same time, enjoy a great read, this is your book. Robb Walsh writes well.

And if a picture tells a thousand words, Legends of Texas Barbecue is longer than its 256 pages. Exceptionally well chosen, they vividly document and illustrate Texas barbecue, past and present.

With its many recipes (for just about everything you'll find barbecued in Texas, along with sauces, rubs and sides), Legends of Texas Barbecue is definitely a cookbook. But it's a lot more.

Here is one of the many fine recipes from Legends of Texas Barbecue.

Bryan Bracewell's Venison Sausage from Legends of Texas Barbecue

Early histories of the Hill Country note that the German immigrants had a tough time in their first few years due to crop failures and the fact that they weren't very good with firearms. Luckily, they were great butchers, so they ended up specializing in processing wild game for others.

When deer hunters get their venison processed in the old German towns of the Texas Hill Country, some meat markets still offer to turn shoulder and other tough cuts into rehwurst (venison sausage) instead of the usual venison "hamburger."

You can also make this sausage at home if you have some venison in your freezer. Here's Southside Market's Bryan Bracewell's version.

  • 5 pounds fatty pork butt
  • 5 pounds venison shoulder, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 pint pickled jalapeño slices with their juice
  • Medium hog casings (available at butcher shops)

Grind the pork butt and venison together through the 1/4-inch plate of a meat grinder (the chili plate). A little at a time, add the salt, pepper, and pickled jalapeño slices and their juice through the grinder as you go, so that they become well incorporated into the meat. In a large bowl, knead the mixture with your hands until everything is well blended.

In a small skillet, heat a little oil. Form a meatball-sized piece of the mixture into a small patty and fry it. Taste for seasonings, and adjust them as needed.

Soak the hog casings in lukewarm water. Stuff the meat mixture into the hog casings with a sausage stuffer or a pastry bag, and tie into 4- to 6-inch links. The sausage will keep for 3 to 4 days refrigerated, and up to 2 months frozen.

When you're ready to cook the sausages, set up your smoker. Sear the links over hot coals for 3 minutes on each side, or until nicely brown. Move them to indirect heat over a drip pan and smoke for 30 minutes, or until cooked through.

Serve hot with barbecue fixin's or Red Cabbage (page 109) and German Potato Salad (page 103). Makes 3-1/2 pounds.

The Tex-Mex Cookbook

Robb Walsh implemented many of the same principles when writing The Tex-Mex Cookbook. The roots of Tex-Mex go back farther in Texas than barbecue, and the history is rich and populated with many colorful characters.

Tex-Mex is the ugly duckling of American regional cuisines. Since it was called Mexican food for most of its history, nobody even thought of it as American until about thirty years ago. That was when the first authoritative Mexican cookbook in the United States, Diana Kennedy's The Cuisines of Mexico, was published.

Kennedy trashed the "mixed plates" in "so-called Mexican restaurants" north of the border and encouraged readers to raise their standards. The English-born Kennedy was the wife of the late Paul Kennedy, a New York Times correspondent posted in Mexico City. She had spent little time in the United States at the time of the book's publication in 1972 and evidently wasn't familiar with the Tejano culture.

Far from a defense of Tex-Mex, however, Walsh celebrates its humble origins:

The recipes in this book were chosen to tell the story of Tex-Mex cooking. Unfortunately, many of the ingredients have been banned from the kitchens of American food lovers for years. Lard, Velveeta, and processed foods are used here in heaping quantities. Such is the heritage of Tex-Mex, a cuisine without pretensions.

From the Mexican pioneers of the sixteenth century, who first brought horses and cattle to Texas, to the Spanish mission era when cumin and garlic were introduced, to the 1890s when the Chile Queens of San Antonio sold their peppery stews to gringos like O. Henry and Ambrose Bierce, and through the chili gravy, combination plates, crispy tacos, and frozen margaritas of the twentieth century, all the way to the nuevo fried oyster nachos and vegetarian chorizo of today, here is the history of Tex-Mex in more than 100 recipes and 150 photos.

The book contains separate glossaries for the various dishes (find out why burritos and chimichangas are not truly Tex-Mex), chile peppers, and equipment and ingredients (learn exactly how to use a tortilla press).

Native Texans who cut their teeth on Tex-Mex will find a lot they didn't know in The Tex-Mex Cookbook. The Tex-Mex-Paris-France connection is of particular interest.

And the recipes are real cook-friendly gems. They number over 100, running the gamut from chili (an even dozen) to dips, sauces, salsas, beans, enchiladas (again, a dozen), tortillas, tamales, pralines, margaritas and more. Don't be daunted by the Christmas Tamalada recipe which yields 100 dozen tamales (you'll need 70 pounds of boneless pork butt and 50 pounds of prepared masa), because a more modest, home kitchen-sized version is provided. And the next time you get a hankering for Tex-Mex, I recommend you try the Truck Stop Chili (recipe below) and Enchiladas on pages 60-61.


Truck Stop Chili from The Tex-Mex Cookbook

Here's a more elaborate diner-style chili made with bacon and chipotles. It tastes great all by itself, over tamales, with a side order of beans, or as an enchilada sauce for Truck Stop Enchiladas.

  • 1/4 pound bacon
  • 3 pounds trimmed beef brisket, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 pound onions, chopped
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 3-1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexico oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • One 13.75-ounce can beef broth
  • One 28-ounce can plum tomatoes in purée
  • 2 dried chipotle chiles

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Remove the bacon and reserve. Over high heat, brown the beef in the bacon drippings left in the skillet and set the meat aside. Over medium heat, sauté the onions in the remaining drippings for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned.

Toast the cumin in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly for 1 minute or until fragrant.

Add the toasted cumin, chili powder, paprika, oregano, black pepper, thyme, salt, and garlic to the cooked onions and sauté for 1 minute. Crumble in the bacon, add the beef broth, 1 cup water, tomatoes, chiles, and the beef. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover partially, and simmer for 3 hours or until the meat is very tender, adding water as needed to maintain the desired consistency.

Robb Walsh is a celebrated food writer and winner of two James Beard awards. He has traveled the globe sampling the world's culinary phenomena and commenting on both the food and the cultures behind the dishes. He really warms to his subjects in both Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook and The Tex-Mex Cookbook. There's just no place like home.

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Legends of Texas Barbecue and The Tex-Mex Cookbook
288 pages
Chronicle Books 2002-04-01
Purchase Book on Amazon.Com