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La Belle Cuisine
Ranch-Style Cooking with a Twist
by Pableaux Johnson
thick char-grilled T-bone, a pile of hot mashed potatoes, and an
Lone Star Beer—that's my idea of West Texas cowboy cuisine."
Cowboy in the Kitchen:
Recipes from Reata and
Texas West of the Pecos
by Grady Spears, 1999, Ten Speed Press
though Chef Grady Spears didn't grow up on a West Texas cattle ranch,
played a significant role in updating cowboy cuisine and bringing it to food
lovers outside the Lone Star state.
Spears' cooking goes beyond the simple beefsteak to dishes like stacked
pheasant enchiladas in salsa verde, braised cabbage with chile pasilla and
port wine, and buttermilk pies spiked with rum-soaked raisins.
As the owner and head cook at his Reata restaurant in the remote western
of Alpine, Spears developed a new twist to ranch-style cooking
traditions and successfully exported his innovations to the Texas cattle
city of Fort Worth
and the toney town of Beverly Hills. But despite his
distinctly urban migration,
Spears' food keeps strong roots in the living
cowboy culture of the Trans-Pecos borderlands.
Spears' 1999 book A Cowboy in the Kitchen (10 Speed Press) presents both his
popular Reata recipes, adapted for the home kitchen, and an informative take
on ranch life and cuisine. Spears co-authored with noted Texas food writer
Robb Walsh, who fills the storied history of cooking on the range, all the
cowboy coffee to the finer points of roasting goats.
Here are a few of the pillars of cowboy cooking according to Spears, with a
of his own twists thrown in.
Though most people expect big slabs of meat to be at the core of the cowboy
cuisine, thick steaks are traditionally more of a "going to town" meal than
menu item. Beef, though plentiful, fresh, and on the hoof, only
appeared in steak form during special occasions for most cowboys working
West Texas ranches."
Grilled Strip Steak
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
4 strip steaks (about 14 ounces each)
4 teaspoons Reata Grill Blend:
(1 teaspoon kosher salt, 3/4
powdered chile pasilla, 1/2 teaspoon each of
garlic, sugar, ground cumin,
black pepper, ground thyme)
4 slices herbed butter
Prepare the grill. Mix the Worcestershire and olive oil in a
Soak the steaks in this mixture while the grill is heating.
steaks from the marinade and season with the Reata Grill Blend.
When the grill feels hot to a hand held 5 inches from the
fire, it is ready
to use. Place the steaks on the grill and cook for 5
minutes on each side
for medium. Top each steak with a cold slice of herbed
with chopped fresh cilantro) and serve immediately.
cowboy cooking is based on the tradition of the traveling chuck
kitchen on wheels, used to feed far-flung ranch hands, and
The versatile cast-iron pots known as Dutch ovens were the range cook's
friend, since they could be used for nearly every kind of cookery
sourdough baking). Cooks would ladle hot coals on the lids
of these heavy pots
for even heat and two-sided cooking.
Tangy sourdough rolls and biscuits baked
in a coal-covered Dutch
oven became standard starches and gravy soppers. The
pinto bean, prized for its durability and nutrition, was often given a
more direct Dutch oven treatment. Beans cooked long and slow over
an open fire formed a core of cowboys' everyday fare."
4 cups dried pinto beans
4 cups minced yellow onions, plus 1-1/2 cups diced
1/2 cup pure chili powder
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed and chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups diced red bell peppers
2 cups diced green bell peppers
Wash the beans and sort through them to remove any foreign
particles or broken beans. In a stockpot, cover the beans with cold water by
and soak them for 6 hours or overnight. Be sure the beans remain
covered with water during the soaking process. Drain the beans and return
the same pan. Cover them with fresh water by 1-1/2 inches. Add the
minced onions, chili powder, salt, and cilantro. Stir to blend. Bring the
beans to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook until the
beans are tender, about 2-1/2 hours. From time to time, check and stir the
beans, add-ing water if needed. Near the end of the cooking time, the liquid
should be almost absorbed. Close to serving time, heat the olive oil in a
pan. When the oil is very hot, add the diced onions and peppers
and cook them quickly, about 6 minutes, stirring and tossing, until crisp
Stir this mixture into the beans. Serve at once.
political and culinary borders between Texas and Mexico tend to get blurry
in the Trans-Pecos ranchlands, and cowboy cooking shows a fair amount of
exchange between the two countries. Many of the cooks (cocineros in Spanish)
working on the huge ranches of Texas came from nearby Chihuahua, Mexico,
Tex-Mex flavors have nearly always spiced up the food of the cowboys.
gooey appetizer is thick with cheese, chiles, and chili-heavy Mexican
sausage. It's a simple way to sample the influence of the cocineros."
Chorizo Con Queso
1 tablespoon corn oil
1/2 pound chorizo (Mexican chili sausage)
1/2 cup minced onions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/3 cup roasted poblano chile, diced
1/3 cup chicken stock
3 cups grated mild cheddar cheese
Warm the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the
chorizo and cook it for 2 minutes, or until the fat begins to melt. Add the
garlic. Cook until the chorizo is well browned. Drain off the
the tomatoes, poblano chile, and chicken stock. Bring the
mixture to a
simmer and slowly add the cheese, blending it with a spoon. As
of cheese melts, add more, cooking over low heat. When all the
cheese has melted and the mixture comes together, it is ready to serve with
tortillas or crispy chips. Keep warm while serving.
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