The Texas Cowboy Kitchen
by Grady Spears with June Naylor
Gather ‘round the chuck-wagon, y’all. The Texas Cowboy Kitchen cookbook is a veritable round-up of rustic recipes inspired by cattle-drive cooks on the historic Chisholm Trail. From 1867-1884, this trail was the epicenter of Texas’ cattle market and the main artery for driving thousands of Longhorns north to the meatpacking houses of the Midwest. The men who braved this difficult, dirty work crystallized the image of the “wild and woolly” cowboy as an American icon. Through history and lore as well as Old West photos by renowned cowboy photographer Erwin E. Smith, cowboy-turned-chef Grady Spears and GAYOT.com contributor June Naylor capture the era and update its hearty comfort foods for modern palates.
Since we’re talking cattle country, it’s not surprising that beef takes center stage here. Starters like Dr. Pepper-marinated skirt steak tostadas and main dishes like sourdough chicken-fried steak and dry-aged rib eye with Bandera butter are standouts. But there’s also a chapter on “Things You Don’t Rope” like pan-roasted trout ranchero, pork tenderloin with watermelon salsa, and old-fashioned chicken and dumplings. Chuck-wagon cooks kept the cowpokes’ bellies full with beans, soups, and baked goods as well, represented here by such recipes as Lone Star and molasses baked beans, corn-tomato bisque, and cheddar and black pepper biscuits. The influence of nearby Mexico runs deep, with recipes for tamales stuffed with barbecued quail or chorizo, piloncilla (Mexican brown sugar) meat rubs, and chiles rellenos with garlic shrimp. Tough as they may have been, no cowboy could resist the pleasures of dessert, especially apricot fried pies, Dutch-oven strawberry cobbler, or West Texas brownies. So, corral some friends and family, fix up a campfire cocktail, throw some meat on the grill, and get ready for some R’n’R, Texas style.
Cheddar and Black Pepper Biscuits
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening or unsalted butter
¾ cup buttermilk
4 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into ¼ inch cubes
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet or a cake pan with parchment paper or lightly butter the surface with about 1 teaspoon of the melted butter. The choice of the pan will determine the outcome of the biscuit: For a crispy exterior, set the biscuits about ½ inch apart on a baking sheet. If you want moister, fluffier biscuits, place them close together in a cake pan. Select the pan of your choice and have it ready for the biscuits.
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add the shortening and cut it into the dry ingredients using 2 knives, a pastry blender, or your hands. Work the shortening in well until it is reduced to pea-size pieces. Add the buttermilk and mix briefly, just to incorporate it. It is very important not to overwork the dough, or the biscuits will not be delicate and light. Gently mix in the cheddar and black pepper. The dough will be fairly sticky. Place the dough on a smooth, well-floured surface and pat with your hands to about ¾ inch thick. Cut out the biscuits, using a 2-inch round glass or cookie cutter. Dip the cutter into flour between cuts to keep from sticking.
Place the biscuits on or in the prepared pan. The remaining dough may be gently gathered together and rolled out again for more biscuits. Brush the tops with the remaining melted butter. Place the biscuits in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve warm.
Reviewed by Rachel Levin
(Updated: 08/26/10 CT)