The Texas Cowboy Kitchen: Recipes from the Chisholm Club Review
By Grady Spears
Straight Outta Fort Worth
It isn't often you encounter a cookbook that serves up terrific recipes and a powerful history lesson. The Texas Cowboy Kitchen: Recipes from the Chisholm Club delivers on both counts.
Grady Spears, the celebrated cowboy cook extraordinaire, has put together another testament to his talent in the kitchen and love for Texas culture and history. He is masterfully assisted by June Naylor, award-winning writer with a deep background in food and travel. Like Spears, Naylor is a Fort Worth native. She provides stimulating, evocative history and details pertaining to the famous Chisholm Trail, trail drivers, and chuck wagons, all of which augment the intriguing, comforting spread of foods for which Grady Spears is so well known.
The Texas Cowboy Kitchen has even more to recommend it. The book is liberally illustrated with the photographs of cowboy photographer Erwin E. Smith taken just after the turn of the last century. These full-page, sepia-toned beauties are a powerful portrayal of the legendary Texas cowboy and the trail drive.
Large enough to qualify as coffee-table size (over eleven by nine inches), The Texas Cowboy Kitchen is a beautiful volume with its "hereford" jacket, black binding and heavy, creamy paper.
But history and beauty notwithstanding, The Texas Cowboy Kitchen is a cookbook and a fine cookbook at that. Grady Spears has authored several excellent cookbooks, and this one is no exception. In the foreword written by none other than Baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, the Texas hurler says in part:
The book captures an era when chuck-wagon cooks on the cattle drive kept the cowpokes fed with beans, tortillas, beef jerky, and stews. And while cowboys of the Chisholm Trail days didn't have such treasures as Beef Tenderloin with Hollandaise Diablo or Pan-roasted Trout Ranchero, trail-weary travelers today can find that kind of happiness in Grady's food at The Chisholm Club in Fort Worth and in this book. Sure, the ingredients have been around for the past 150 years, but you can bet that nobody has ever put them together in the irresistible fashion that has become synonymous with Grady Spears' renowned cowboy cooking. It's all here, with much more. Enjoy your reading, your history lessons, and great eating.
Recipes range from plain (Simple Chorizo) to fancy (Barbecued Quail Tamales with Avocado Cream), and they never outstrip the abilities of the average cook with an ambition to produce spectacular results. Consider Beef Short Ribs Braised in Port, Dry-Aged Rib Eye with Bandera Butter, Plank-Roasted Red Snapper with Ancho-Citrus Glaze, Chicken-Fried Steak, Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Chorizo, Chicken-Fried Oysters with Pico Cream, Porterhouse Pork Chops with Watermelon Salsa, and that is just a sampling of main dishes. There is a full array of appetizers, soups, salads, sides, sauces, breads, desserts and beverages. I paged front to back and back again several times in a futile attempt to select the best recipe for this review. Since I found it impossible to choose based on quality, two recipes hit home with me on the cold, blustery day on which I wrote this review are below:
Pinto Bean Chowder from The Texas Cowboy Kitchen
Lots of Texas families have a life long habit of cooking a big pot of beans on weekends. When you have beans left over, this is a great recipe that will add a whole new meal to your weekly menu. Serve with a big pan of Blue Ribbon Cornbread.
- 1 cup corn, cut fresh from the cob
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup diced bacon
- 2 carrots, diced
- 4 celery stalks, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 2 yellow onions, diced
- 4 jalapeños, seeded and diced
- 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 cups cooked pinto beans, drained and divided
- 2 cups chicken stock, divided
- kosher salt to taste
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 6 tablespoons crème fraîche (page 144)
In a sauté pan, cook corn over high heat about 4 to 5 minutes until blackened, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
In same skillet, heat the oil and cook the bacon over high heat until it starts to brown. Add the carrots, celery, bell pepper, onions, jalapeños, and garlic, cooking until they begin to soften. Remove from heat.
In a food processor, purée half the beans with 1/2 cup of the chicken stock. Add processed bean mixture, remaining chicken stock, and remaining beans to the vegetables in the skillet and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat, and divide into bowls. Garnish with dollop of crème fraîche.
And now the cornbread:
Blue Ribbon Cornbread
Several years ago, June took home a first-place ribbon at the State Fair of Texas for her cornbread, which has become a family favorite. Use this recipe to make cornbread patties, which go well with grilled Bob-White Quail (page 124). It will also make a darn good stuffing too.
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 to 2 jalapeños, stems and seeds removed, minced
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place butter in a 9- to 10-inch cast-iron skillet (or Dutch oven) and place in oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until buttter has melted. Remove from oven, and carefully tilt pan to make the butter coat the entire inside. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix together with a whisk or fork. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add cream, egg, and red bell pepper. Pour the melted butter from the skillet into the mixture and mix with whisk just until all ingredients are moistened. Spoon one-half of the batter into the skillet. Carefully spread the cheese over the batter and top with the minced jalapeños. Top with the remaining batter and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cornbread is just browning on top. Cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
The Texas Cowboy Kitchen is a cookbook you will use, and a book you will treasure for years to come. Get one for yourself or someone you really care about.