Texas cowboys are the stuff of legend — immortalized in ruggedly picturesque images from Madison Avenue to Hollywood. Cowboy cooking has the same romanticized mythology, with the same oversimplified reputation (think campfire coffee, cowboy steaks, and ranch dressing). In reality, the food of the Texas cattle raisers came from a wide variety of ethnicities and spans four centuries.
Robb Walsh digs deep into the culinary culture of the Texas cowpunchers, beginning with the Mexican vaqueros and their chile-based cuisine. Walsh gives overdue credit to the largely unsung black cowboys (one in four cowboys was black, and many of those were cooks). Cowgirls also played a role, and there is even a chapter on Urban Cowboys and an interview with the owner of Gilley’s, setting for the John Travolta--Debra Winger film.
Here are a mouthwatering variety of recipes that include campfire and chuckwagon favorites as well as the sophisticated creations of the New Cowboy Cuisine:
• Meats and poultry: sirloin guisada, cinnamon chicken, coffee-rubbed tenderloin
• Stews and one-pot meals: chili, gumbo, fideo con carne
• Sides: scalloped potatoes, onion rings, pole beans, field peas
• Desserts and breads: peach cobbler, sourdough biscuits, old-fashioned preserves
Through over a hundred evocative photos and a hundred recipes, historical sources, and the words of the cowboys (and cowgirls) themselves, the food lore of the Lone Star cowboy is brought vividly to life.
A Houston native with two James Beard awards, Walsh (Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook) carves Texas up into digestible sections, collecting its juices and leaving lots of contemplative fat. This 10-chapter history reaches as far back as the year 1540, when cattle first came to the area, and examines a multitude of geographic and demographic influences on the Lone Star State's cuisine. It is both a study of rich diversity and a collection of over 100 recipes, though only perhaps a quarter of the meals rise above the commonplace. The liveliest dishes turn up in the section on South Texas and are presented with a Hispanic flair, such as Conejo Colorado (Rabbit Stewed in Red Chile Sauce). There are two intriguing chapters that examine how black slaves transformed into black cowboys and were responsible for the introduction of Texas barbecue, but the accompanying recipes are disappointingly old hat. A fun chapter on Cowgirls in the Kitchen has some of the best of the book's 150 b&w photos as well as a swell Buttermilk-Lemon Pie. Moving into modern times, there is perhaps too much attention paid to the movie Urban Cowboy and the cultural and epicurean importance of Mickey Gilley, but Walsh wraps up his enterprise nicely with entrees such as a Poblano Mac & Cheese and a broiled tenderloin marinated in the black gold of Waco: Dr. Pepper.