Wherein C&I’s food and drink editor recommends dishes, desserts, and drinks created (or perfected) in the Lone Star State.
As the food and drink editor of this fine magazine, I spend a lot of time traveling across the West. This year, I’ve hit Denver; San Diego; a bunch of places in New Mexico, where my family has a get-away-from-it-all cabin in the Sacramento Mountains; and many other plots of soil and sidewalk this side of the Mississippi.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, that the majority of my regional treks are within Texas, the state that C&I and I call home. Two weeks ago, I was in Houston to eat barbecue. I’ve made several trips to San Antonio with the requisite stops at Cured — where chef and co-owner Steven McHugh continues to innovate within the restrictions of seasonality and locality — and Ray’s Drive Inn. The Westside institution is home to my favorite puffy tacos.
C&I contributing photographer Robert Strickland, our mutual friend Jon, and I spent five days traveling to and from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where barbacoa is king. On the way back to Dallas, we made a pit stop at Davila’s BBQ in Seguin. For Father’s Day, my wife, a native Texan, took me to dinner at Comedor, a newish Austin restaurant that's serving cutting-edge modern Mexican. That meal, which began with a bottle of mezcal, was a stunning three-hour, 10-course feast that Mrs. Ralat declared one of the best meals of her life and left me reevaluating modern Mexican cuisine in Texas.
Texas restaurants and home kitchens are happy places for me. It’s where I hear the stories of the people behind the food and continually acquaint myself with the food of our great state, be they traditional iterations, dishes that might be new spins on old favorites, dishes unique to the establishment, or area specialties such as those that make up the Texas table, which I’ve listed below.
Concha (a breakfast pastry that works great as burger bun)
Kolache (or is it kolach?)
Chips and Salsa (state snack)
Chile con Queso (we have a recipe for you, right this way)
Chili (state dish)
Smoked Brisket (barbecue in general — that includes barbacoa)
Fajitas (click on the chile con queso link for a power combo of Texas eats)
San Antonio-Style Puffy Taco
Frozen Margarita (a Dallas original)
Texas Red Grapefruit (state fruit)
Pecan Pie (we got a recipe for that too!)
Blue Bell Ice Cream
Rivertop Frozen Margarita
1½ ounces tequila
½ ounce triple sec
1 ounce agave nectar
1 ounce lime juice
Place in blender. Blend. Pour into glass and garnish with fruit.
Chipotle Beef Fajita Queso
(Makes 6 – 8 servings)
3 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound skirt steak
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup diced yellow onion
2 jalapeños, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup water
1 pound yellow American cheese, shredded
Guacamole, for topping
Pico de Gallo, for topping
Tortilla Chips, for serving
Place the chipotles, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, salt, black pepper, and cumin in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth to make a marinade. Reserve 1 tablespoon for the queso.
Place the steak in a bowl and add the rest of the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours, turning the steak a couple of times. (Don’t marinate longer than 2 hours or the texture will begin to get mushy.)
While the steak is marinating, in a medium saucepan, warm the butter with the reserved 1 tablespoon marinade over medium-low heat. Add the onion and jalapeños and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Whisk together the cornstarch, half-and-half, and water until well combined, then pour into the pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, and cook for a couple of minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken. Add the cheese, turn down the heat to low, and cook, stirring, until the cheese has melted. Add salt to taste. Cover and turn off the heat.
After the steak has marinated, position a rack about 4 inches from the upper heating element and place a large, broiler-safe skillet on the rack. Preheat the broiler and skillet for 10 minutes.
With a paper towel, wipe the marinade from the steak, pat the steak dry, and cut it in half so it will fit in the skillet. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and lay the steak in the skillet. Broil the steak, turning once, until nicely charred on both sides, 6 – 8 minutes for medium-rare or 10 – 12 minutes for medium. Transfer the steak to a cutting board, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, reheat the queso over low heat, stirring occasionally.
Slice the steak against the grain, then cut the slices into ½-inch cubes. Transfer the queso to a serving bowl, a small slow cooker, or a chafing dish over a flame. Top the queso with the steak and spoon on guacamole and pico de gallo. Serve warm with tortilla chips
Chipotle Beef Fajita Queso recipe edited and excerpted with permission from Queso!: Regional Recipes for the World's Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip by Lisa Fain (Ten Speed Press, 2017). Purchase the book at Amazon.com. Photography: Courtesy Ten Speed Press. Recipe originally published in the October 2018 Taste of the West issue.
Photography: (barbecue) Robert Strickland, (margarita) Courtesy Rivertop Grill, J.W. Marriott Hill Country Resort & Spa
From the July 2019 issue.