December 2013

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December 2013

Conference & Stage Expo

Great Food, Great State of Texas Go Hand-in-Hand

Ben Shurr and Yanett Heredia

There are so many great influences on food down here in Texas that, when combined, they create a vast and wonderful cuisine. When thinking of food and then Texas, usually one of two things pop up – BBQ/Smokehouse beef and Tex-Mex food. Visitors attending the 2014 Annual Conference will experience both.

It is not rare to walk into a Texan's backyard and find more than one type of cooking apparatus. Many folks have at least two - be it a gas grill, a charcoal grill, or a smoker. Texans pride themselves on how well they can smoke, grill, and BBQ just about anything, but the number one cooking choice is Texas beef. For the longest time, beef has been the king of Texas grilling. Steak to brisket and about every cut in between has been cooked to perfection and still is. There has been a subtle shift, of late, to broadening the horizon.

Pork has been making a westward BBQ expansion into Texas. Smoked chicken and a big ol' turkey leg are now par for the course. Smoked sausage is a standard, and, there is nothing better than fresh Gulf redfish, shrimp, or oysters on a charcoal grill or cedar plank. Veggies do not escape the flame either. Grilled corn, squash, peppers, onions, and zucchini are just a few of the common sides a person will find.

Tex-Mex is a true Texas classic and is delicious. Tex-Mex is not authentic Mexican. The two cuisines are vastly different and often confused. When someone says, "Let's go out for Mexican," 99 percent of the time they are referring to Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex cuisine relies heavily on the use of shredded cheese, meat (usually pork, beef, or chicken), refried beans, spices, and starches such as tortilla wraps, chips, and hard-shelled tacos. Appetizers such as nachos with melted queso, chips and salsa, yellow cheese, sour cream, and chili con carne are items often confused as being Mexican food but are largely Tex-Mex cuisine. Tacos made with a soft flour tortilla or a slightly fried corn tortilla, whole beans, Cotija cheese, menudo (soup made from tripe), gorditas, and molé sauce (made with cocoa powder, chili peppers and about 19 other ingredients) are authentic Mexican foods. Foods common to both Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican are tamales, rice, and carne asada (grilled meat).

Borrowing from their brothers to the east (Louisiana), Texans get the greatness of Cajun food. Cajun food is the food of the people – a rustic "common" food. It was originally comprised of what was available at the moment -- usually rice, seafood, sausage. and vegetables -- cooked (often boiled) in separate pots then combined when plated. Spices, specifically cayenne pepper and black pepper, are used unsparingly and give Cajun cuisine the stigma of being overly spicy. The intensity of the heat can range from mild to a downright five-alarm fire. Some of the most common dishes associated with Cajun food are gumbo (a type of thick soup), jambalaya (meat or seafood in a sauce and placed over rice), red-beans-and-rice, rice and gravy (usually brown gravy), and boiled crawfish (a.k.a. mudbugs). Done over time and usually accompanied with a party, the crawfish is boiled with corn, potatoes, spices, and sausage in a large pot and then is dumped on the table for everyone to dig in. Since the cooking water is never dumped (the fixins are cooked within a basket) each pot gets spicier with each new batch. The first batch may be mild with the last batch having quite a kick. Readers have been warned.

Texas cuisine is as diverse as the Texas landscape and the people of the Lone Star State. There are fantastic Italian restaurants, excellent Chinese and Japanese fare, and quite an influence of Brazilian cuisine. Central Texas is home to one of the largest German populations in the nation, which culture, too, has a strong influence is on Texas food and drink. Try a Shiner bock beer: very good; very German. English and Irish pub fare is doing very well, and yes, in contrast to what people think, there are vegan-friendly restaurants and menu items.

Bottom line: there is no need to go hungry while visiting Fort Worth, Texas. Get out there and try a little bit of everything or a whole lot of one thing. The restaurants, bar and grills, cafés, and all types of eateries. will be glad to have ya! One last note-- those who need a quick bite and are in the mood for a burger, try A Whataburger – arguably the "State Hamburger of Texas."