Traditional Texas Food
Articles about Texas' most famous foods
by John Raven, Ph.B.
by John Raven, Ph. B.
We don't have a theme this month. Every so often we need to take care of business that doesn't quite fit anywhere else, so here we go.
I got a lot of flack from the Great Northwest for neglecting to mention the Walla Walla onions last month. The truth is I've never seen a Walla Walla onion in a market in Texas, and the trip to Washington State is a bit much just for onions. So, if the Walla Walla Onion lovers would like to send me a case of their pride and joys, I'd be happy to critique them.
On the grill this month are Cornish hens. They were known for a long time as Cornish game hens. Folks shied away from the word "game," so they are now just plain Cornish hens. They were developed in England. They have bad tempers, but are small, so they were crossed with jungle fowl and became what is now our fighting chickens.
When you purchase a Cornish hen in the store it will be frozen. To thaw them, put them in the bottom of the refrigerator for a day or two, or you can thaw them in a pan of cold water in a couple of hours. When they are thawed, remove the giblets and wash the bird inside and out in cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. The small size of the bird makes it possible to stuff them and cook them on the grill. (Don't try it with larger birds. It takes too long to get the stuffing done, and there's a chance that bacteria will grow.)
Season the birds inside and out before stuffing them. Your favorite stuffing is your option. It's very easy to use the stuffing in a box.
Put the birds on the grill at a medium temperature using indirect heat. When the meat thermometer shows 155 degrees in the thickest part of the bird, it's done. You want to bring the stuffing to at least 155 degrees also. They should be done in about an hour. Sit back and enjoy.
Here's a tasty little treat that has been in the family ever since I can remember.
Cucumber and Onion
Take a large, sweet onion and peel it. Slice into quarter-inch slices. Separate the slices into rings in a bowl. Peel a medium-to-large cucumber and split it down the middle lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds. Cut the cucumber into bite-size pieces and add it to the onions. Give a good sprinkle of fresh ground black pepper. Sprinkle three tablespoons of sugar over the onions and cucumber. Add a quarter cup of white vinegar. (You may vary the proportions of vinegar and sugar to suit your taste). Mix well, cover and refrigerate overnight. The onion and cucumber will give up a lot of juice, so it won't be dry. The cucumber and onion stay crunchy, go well with just about any dish and will keep for a week or longer in the refrigerator.
Chili in Hot Weather
Just because the weather is hot doesn't mean you can't enjoy chili. "It's not just for winter anymore." My favorite way to enjoy chili is to put a generous portion in a bowl and top it with sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce and chopped fresh tomatoes. That, along with some saltines or corn chips, goes just fine on a hot summer evening. Makes you forget about the outside temperature. For the inside temperature you need lots of iced tea.
With the price of beef being what it is, building a pot of chili can become an expensive proposition. Pork makes wonderful chili. Just choose a lean cut and substitute it for the beef in your favorite chili recipe. You'll find you don't have to cook it near as long as beef, and it will contain less fat. If you have some venison in the freezer that no one will eat, mix it fifty-fifty with pork, and make chili out of it.
A Word about Sour Cream
No authentic Tex-Mex recipe I know of calls for sour cream. The chains started using sour cream and people, not knowing better, think it's okay. I was raised on a dairy farm. Sour cream, is BAD stuff. Whew! I can tolerate a little sour cream on a baked potato, but leave it off my Tex-Mex, please.
Cilantro, an herb often used in Tex-Mex cooking, is something you should become familiar with. It is also known as Mexican or Chinese parsley. It's best used fresh. It is very pungent and a little goes a long way. Cilantro gives a signature flavor to whatever dish it is used in. Pico de Gallo without cilantro is just tomatoes and peppers. The seed of the cilantro is known as coriander. Coriander has a sweetish citrus flavor. It goes well with any tomato recipe. Whole coriander seed make a great organic breath freshener. If you can't find fresh cilantro, you can substitute portions of a green sock that has been worn for a week by a teenager. Just snip it up with the scissors.
I always look forward to the first summer squash of the season. My favorite is the yellow crookneck. You can't find them in the supermarkets anymore. They take up too much space with their crooked shape, so they have been replaced by yellow straight squash. My favorite way to prepare summer squash is fried squash patties. Very easy to make. Just dice up some squash (use small, young ones to avoid the big seeds). For every cupful of diced squash, add a tablespoon of minced onion. Salt and pepper to your taste. Beat an egg, pour it over the squash and mix well. Add yellow cornmeal to the bowl until it the mixture will stick together. Let it set a few minutes before you form the patties. Heat about an eighth inch of oil in your best skillet. Form the squash mixture into patties a little less than a half-inch thick. You might try wetting your hands while doing this. Fry until golden brown, drain on paper towels and serve hot. You can also use zucchini for this dish.
Creamed squash are good, too. You can use any variety. Just dice them and boil them in salted water until just tender. Drain and serve covered with your favorite white sauce.
I hope this keeps you well fed until our next visit. Enjoy your summer.
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