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Home Reviews Book Reviews Gorgeous cookbook celebrates Texas’ love affair with beef

Gorgeous cookbook celebrates Texas’ love affair with beef

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When I was growing up, we always had great beef. My step-father kept a few cows on his farm at Coke and took one to the locker plant a couple of times a year.

My parents entertained a lot, and it was my step-father’s responsibility to cook the steaks. Most of the time he grilled them outside, but every now and then, he stayed in the kitchen, using an ancient cast iron skillet to “get a good scald” on the T-bone or rib eye.

Even now, I can taste their rich, full flavor. No A-1 needed. Ever.

I didn’t realize how different a “store bought” steak was until I went off to college and decided to fix steaks for my roommates.

Man. What a revelation. And not in a good way.

Earlier this year, two foodies with Texas roots put their heads together and released “The Big Texas Steakhouse Cookbook,” a beautiful coffee table-sized cookbook containing popular recipes from some of the most famous steakhouses in the Lone Star State.

Helen Thompson served as the managing editor of Domain, Texas Monthly’s lifestyle magazine. She’s also the author of “Dallas Classic Desserts.”

Janice Shay was formerly an award-winning graphic illustrator for Texas Monthly magazine. She is the author of “Charleston Classic Desserts,” “Savannah Classic Desserts” and “Savannah Classic Seafood.” She lives in Savannah, Ga.

Photographer Robert Peacock was responsible for the 125 gorgeous color photographs in the book. Peacock’s photos have been published in Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living, Coastal Living, Southern Accents and D Home.

Rick Wilson, Echo Publishing’s guru of tasty things, was impressed with the book. He’s a long-time Dutch oven cook, so he knows a thing or two about cooking with cast iron, as recommended in several recipes.

This weekend, Wilson is in charge of the John Chester Dutch Oven Cooking Class for the Hopkins County Historical Society.

“I enjoyed reading through the book,” he said. “It had a lot of interesting ideas and concepts for preparing foods. It’s maybe more in depth than what I would use to prepare everyday dishes, but it’s fun to try the recipes every now and then.”

Thompson and Shay took time from their schedules to answer some questions about this tasty project.

News-Telegram: How did ya’ll decide on a Texas steakhouse cookbook?

Helen Thompson and Janice Shay: Steak is the quintessential Texas dish, and Texas steakhouses set the standard for steakhouses everywhere. We wanted to celebrate our heritage of great beef and wonderful steakhouses.

Helen: I had edited the small town restaurants section in Around The State when I was working at Texas Monthly in the 80s and I had visited many of the iconic steakhouses and was fascinated by them. Always wanted to do some kind of picture book so this book combines the best of what I had wanted long ago and my never-ending interest in food.

N-T: And once you decided on the project, how long did it take … and did you test each recipe?

HT and JS: We wrote and produced the book in less than a year. The chefs were all given the responsibility of testing their own recipes.

Some ingredients needed to be cut down to cookbook size from the larger amounts the chefs usually prepare for a restaurant, so the chefs are the best judge as to whether the smaller recipes still match the flavors of the larger batches they usually prepare.

Chefs are notoriously stingy with their recipes, especially the signature ones. How did you get them to share? Any funny stories?

HT and JS: We found everyone to be very amenable. With the proliferation of cookbooks, the Food Network, online recipes, etc., chefs realize sharing a recipe is simply good marketing.

That said, some of the big steakhouse chains would not cooperate. We understand it is part of their business structure that they do not share recipes, so we decided not to include the chains in this book, although some make some very fine steaks.

N-T: Your cookbook includes a lot of tips – including a course in Beef 101 with information like “grass-fed beef requires 30 percent less cooking time. Be careful not to overcook.” –  and a brief history of each restaurant. Doing the research for this portion of the book must have been great fun.
Helen: It was actually kind of surprising. I think I had expected that grass-fed beef, for instance, would be tastier if not preferable to the grain-fed version. It's certainly more politically correct. But it's really not tastier – it can taste grassy and be really chewy. I came to the conclusion that the best meat is the one that has the best genes.

N-T: On page 74, there’s a quote from Larry McMurtry: Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken fried steak.

How did you decide on which chicken fried steak recipes to include in the cookbook?

Helen: I looked for the biggest one.

N-T: When it comes to aging a piece of red meat, there’s an ongoing debate about wet v. dry. Which do you prefer?
Helen: Dry aging is trickier, but the rich, nutty flavor is the big payoff.

N-T: You devote a whole section of the cookbook to chili, sausage, tamales. Why are they important to the Texas culinary landscape?
Helen: They all represent important contributions to culinary history from the different ethnic groups that settled in Texas. Sausage is usually associated with Germans, although the Spanish have a great version (chorizo); tamales and chili are an essential contribution from our Spanish forbears, although I think chili can also be considered a standby dish of cowboy cooks, too.

N-T: The “Starters, Sides, Sauces and Rubs” section must have been fun. (I love the one from the Hunter Brothers’ H3 Ranch in Fort Worth for Nine Miles of Dirt Road.) Do you have a favorite?
HT and JS: All these recipes are my favorites, which is why we've included them, but H3 does a wonderful job of naming their dishes. I'm not sure that Nine Miles of Dirt Road is a mouth-watering title for this yummy dish, but it sure gets points for originality!

N-T: “Desserts and Drinks” is over the top. That Coconut Pie from Ranchman’s Ponder Steakhouse sounds like the bomb. Describe it in three words.
Helen: Sorry. It takes four words. Heaven. In. Your. Mouth.

N-T: I’m a real fan of pound cake. Patti’s Poundcake with Raspberry Chambord Sauce sounds devine. Is it?
Helen: Now, why would you rely on me when you have the recipe right there? Try it! (And if you don't like it, just wrap it up and send it on to me.)


Buck Reams' Sourdough Chicken Fried Steak

Grady's Restaurant - Forth Worth

Sourdough Starter

1 (1 1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast

1 cup sugar

6 cups all-purpose flour

4 cups warm water

To make sourdough started, fill a large crock or large bowl with the water. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let it dissolved for at least 4 minutes. Using a long spoon or whisk, stir in the sugar and flour. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set the mixture aside at room temperature for at least 12 hours before using. When ready to use, pour into a wide shallow bowl.

Chicken Fried Steak

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoopn freshly ground black pepper

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

4 to 6 cups of peanut oil, or enough to completely cover the steaks in a Dutch oven

6 tenderized beef steaks, pounded thin

Whisk 2 cups of flour, salt and both peppers together in a bowl. Place in a shallow dish or plate and set aside.

Pour the oil into a Dutch oven or a large, heavy, deep-sided skillet and set the pan over a fire or on a stove over medium-high heat. Heat oil to 375 degrees, using a thermometer to determine the temperature.

While the oil is heating, bread the steaks. One at a time, dip a steak into the flour, then into the sourdough starter, completely coating it. Set the prepared meat on a wire rack over a clean sheet pan until there are enough steaks coated to fill the pan without crowding.

When the oil is ready, gently slide 2 or 3 steaks into the hot oil. Cook the steaks 4 to 6 minutes, turning once, taking care not to break the coating. After the steaks are cooked, place them on a sheet pan lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat the cooking process, allowing the oil to again heat to 375 degrees before adding the next batch of steaks. Repeat the cooking process. Season with salt and pepper while the steaks are hot. Serve immediately with ketchup or gravy.





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