Sunday, September 16, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Texas I - The Land of Beef and BBQ

The next state on my list is the biggest in the South and Southwest.  Like other large states, Texas has a lot going on foodwise, from barbecue to chili, Mex to Tex-Mex, chiles, phởs and chicken-fried steaks - and so much more.

Official Name: State of Texas
State Nickname: The Lone Star State, The Republic of Texas
Admission to the US: December 29, 1845 (#28)
Capital: Austin (4th largest)
Other Important Cities: Houston (largest), San Antonio (2nd largest), Dallas (3rd largest), El Paso (6th largest),
Region: South, Southwest; West South Central (US Census)
RAFT NationsCornbread & BBQ; Chile Pepper; Gumbo; Bison
Bordered by: Oklahoma (north), Arkansas (northeast), Louisiana (east), Gulf of Mexico (southeast), Tamaulipas, Nuevo León & Coahuila (Mexico) and the Río Grande (south), Chihuahua (Mexico) (southwest), New Mexico (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: cast iron dutch oven (cooking implement - not edible, of course, but used for cooking), chili (dish), chiltepín (native pepper), Guadalupe bass (fish), jalapeño (pepper), longhorn (large mammal), pan de campo (bread), pecan (tree and health nut), prickly pear cactus (plant - for the pads and the fruit), sopaipilla and strudel (pastries), sweet onion (vegetable), Texas purple sage (native shrub), Texas red grapefruit (fruit). tortilla chips and salsa (snack)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Where to begin?  Texas-style barbecue (specifically beef and beef brisket), Texas chili, chicken fried steak, Mexican (specifically Northern Mexican) foods, Tex-Mex foods (including migas, chile con carne and sopaipilla)

It's not easy to explain the foods of Texas, because there is just so much of it.  But apart from many typical foods of the South, the Gulf Coast (Houston has its gumbos, for example) and the Southwest, the Lone Star State burns bright with so many of its own.

* beef - Texas is cattle country, and when many of us non-Texans think about the state, the first thing we think of is beef.  Many of the state's most famous dishes are beef based: Texas chili, Texas beef brisket (see below), chicken-fried steak, barbacoa and carne asada (Mexican foods that are also seen often in Texas.  Also note: northeastern Mexico is also carne de res country)

* Tex Mex cuisine - When most Americans think of Mexican food, they're really thinking of this: Texas' own take on the Southwest.  As I'll explore in a following post, "Tex Mex" is not exactly the same as "Mexican", since it is heavier on the cumin, cheese and meat.  Fajitas, migas, sopaipillas and nachos some of the classic Tex-Mex dishes.

* northern Mexican cuisine - Tex Mex has its basis in the foods of northeastern Mexico, and four states border Texas to the south: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.  The chile con carne, barbacoa, carne asada, enchiladas and even to some extent the nachos and migas you find in Tex Mex food all have their origins in this part of Mexico.

* chili - Texas chili is its own special chili.  As we will see in a future post, the one most important thing about Texas chili: it is all meat and never, ever contains beans.

* pan de campo is the simple baking powder "camp bread" that is the official state bread of Texas (here's one recipe from the Travel Magazine of Texas)

* barbecue - This is probably what most of us think of when we think of Texas, a state with its own idea of its barbecue, and more importantly, other states' barbecues.

As with other barbecue states, Texas has a few regional styles.  According to Wikipedia (if you can trust it), East, Central and West Texas all have their own styles of barbecue.  The Texas 'cue I am most familiar (least unfamiliar) with is that of Central Texas, which I indulged in during my recent trip to Austin.  And it's the one that the Meathead himself walks us through, step by step.  While Central Texans barbecue just about any meat - beef, pork, chicken, turkey, wild boar, sausage - their favorite is beef brisket.  As Meathead puts it, "Brisket is the national food of the Republic of Texas" [Goldwyn 2012].  Beyond that, there is no agreement in Texas on what to do with brisket.  Typically, there is some sort of dry rub over a high-quality cut of meat, from "...the chest area of the steer between the forelegs" [Goldwyn 2012].  The steer has two, and they can be tough.  So you need to slow cook it for a long while.

Goldwyn's recipe needs to be done both outside and inside.  I don't have that luxury, so as with my attempts at Kansas City, Memphis and both North Carolina barbecue recipes east and west, I had to find a way to prepare Texas brisket completely indoors (yes, blasphemy, I know).  For the actual recipe, I turned to Lisa Fain's Homesick Texan website [2008].  She had to figure out how to prepare brisket in the oven in her smallish New York City apartment, and she came up with a way to do it using liquid smoke and Worcestershire sauce.  In fact, she notes that in all the variations she tried, Worcestershire was the one common factor.
I have received countless e-mails from y’all, my dear readers, sharing your brisket recipes. And when I was experimenting with how I wanted to make my brisket, I ended up trying quite a few. I think the common theme in all is Worcestershire sauce, along with a generous dose of liquid smoke. The liquid smoke won’t fool anyone, but I like the layer of flavor it adds. [Fain 2008]
Since I didn't want to leave my oven on for five hours, I adapted her delicious brisket for the slow-cooker-as-smoker method I used for the North Carolina barbecue posts.  I was similarly pleased with the results.

The Recipe: Texas Beef Brisket (smoked in the oven)

To do Fain's brisket in the slow cooker, you will need:

* beef brisket (a 3.5 pound one in this case.  While Fain notes that it's difficult to find anything bigger than a measly 1 lb brisket in New York, in Baltimore I couldn't find anything smaller than a 7 lb one at Wegman's.  So again, the nice people at Wegman's cut it in half for me and repackaged the half I didn't want.  It was about $4 per lb)
* Worcestershire sauce (the common thread in all of Fain's brisket recipes.  I had this on hand)
* soy sauce (had it too)
* liquid smoke (I still had some left over from the Kansas City barbecue sauce.  Since I actually smoked this brisket, I used less than Fain called for - 1/4 cup plus up to an extra 1/4 cup.  In the end, I added about 3/16 cup - half way between 1/4 and 1/8 cup - to the slow cooker.)
* apple cider vinegar (had it, and now I need some more)
* black coffee (I'm not a coffee drinker, so I stopped at Starbucks for a small black coffee for about $2)
* jalapeños (I had used all my jalapeños for my other Texas recipes, coming soon, except for one.  I did have a piddly little can of chopped serrano chiles.  It just wasn't the same, even in a pinch)
* onion (had them)
* garlic (same)
* cayenne pepper, salt & pepper (and same)

Remember, we are smoking this brisket in the slow cooker, so I also gathered:

* parchment paper (to make a satchel that you will place at the bottom of the slow cooker pot, filled with...)
* hickory chips (which you must soak at least an hour.  I had these from my attempts at North Carolina barbecue)

Soak those hickory chips.

While you do this, create your rub, mixing the garlic and all the dry ingredients together.

After about an hour, drain the chips and make a satchel with the parchment paper, poking holes all over the side facing up to allow any steam to escape into the slow cooker.

From here I added Fain's ingredients to the slow cooker.  Slice the onion and put the rings at the bottom, around the satchel of hickory chips.

Again, I used a bit less of the liquid smoke than the recipe calls for, since I was actually smoking the brisket.

Dry rub the brisket, and place it fat side up in the slow cooker, on top of the satchel.

Cover with your chiles.

Fain's recipe has you baking it in the oven for about five hours.  I slow cooked it for 7 1/2 hours.

And when it was done, I got this beautiful brisket.  Save the liquid, which Fain points out "is a fine, fine topping" [2008].

Slice the fat off the top and discard.

And slice against the grain.

When I visited Austin, all the brisket that I was served was served up three or four slices worth with plain white bread, onion slices and a small side of barbecue sauce - in this case Austin's own Stubb's brand (pickle slices were not uncommon).  It is some delicious beef brisket, juicy and not dry at all, with a nice spiciness and subtle but definite hickory smoke flavor.  The next time I will experiment by leaving out the liquid smoke altogether, to see how it turns out.  It will still be lovely.

Sources:  "Simple Vegan Migas…Brownsville Style"., posted January 19, 2009.  Copyright 2010  All rights reserved.

Dr. Dan (blogger).  "Spicy 3 Chilies Texas Chili a la Crock Pot".  101 Cooking for Two, posted February 25, 2012.

Fain, Lisa.  "My Oven-Baked Brisket".  Homesick Texan, posted December 16, 2008.  Copyright Homesick Texan.  All rights reserved. 

Goldwyn, Craig "Meathead".  "Barbecue Beef Brisket Texas Style".  Amazing Ribs updated March 2, 2012.  Copyright Amazing Ribs.  All rights reserved.

Guía de Tacos (  "Enchiladas norteñas".  Date unknown.

Johnson Miller, Ruthie.  "Banh mi, oh my! The top five Vietnamese sandwich shops in Houston".  Culture Map Houston, posted February 26, 2011.  Copyright 2009-2012 Culture Map, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Nguyen, Andrea.  "Daikon and Carrot Pickle Recipe (Do Chua)".  Viet World Kitchen, posted May 17, 2009.  Copyright 2002-2012 Andrea Nguyen.  All rights reserved.

Nguyen, Andrea.  "Master Banh Mi Sandwich Recipe".  Viet World Kitchen, posted June 17, 2009.  Copyright 2002-2012 Andrea Nguyen.  All rights reserved.

Shuttlesworth, Patrise.  "Tex-Mex vs. New Mex: Not Just About Jalapeños or Green Chiles".  On the Road, a Houston Press Blog, posted March 26, 2012.  Copyright Houston Press.  All rights reserved.

Sliter Satterwhite, Shannon. "Make a Batch of Texas Chili".  Southern Living Magazine, October 2005.

von der Mehden, Fred R. "Vietnamese".  Handbook of Texas Online.  Date unknown.  Published by the Texas State Historical Association.  Copyright 2012 Texas State Historical Association, published by the Texas State Historical Association, and distributed in partnership with the University of North Texas Sponsors.  All rights reserved.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Texas" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Texas".