Trying to figure out exactly what qualifies as “Texas cuisine” isn’t easy. In a state this big, settled by people this diverse, there are a whole lot of food traditions. And a lot of friendly disagreement on the best way to fix the most famous, like chili and barbecue.
But that doesn’t mean a lot of people aren’t trying. In fact, just last year, a brand-new group was formed, Foodways Texas, with the goal of preserving and celebrating the state’s diverse food culture. Modeled after Southern Foodways Alliance, an older group that celebrates the food of all the South, Foodways Texas has already started sponsoring lectures, dinners and seminars, including recent ones on Gulf oysters and Texas barbecue.
That said, if you want to be taken seriously as a Texas cook, there are a few ingredients you need to know how to handle, and a few dishes you should be able to make. Every Texan’s list would probably be different, but here’s mine – and I welcome hearing yours in the comments:
Texas Gulf oysters: Texas oysters were once so prized that they were named by the bay or reef where harvested; a move is afoot to return to that standard. I applaud anything that brings the spotlight back to these delicious mollusks, best served iced down, with lots of Tabasco on the side.
Brisket: Texans will throw pretty near anything on the grill, but we’re probably most famous for our smoky beef brisket. So deeply flavored that you ought to serve the sauce on the side.
Buttermilk biscuits: Plain biscuits don’t cut it here. You need the tang of buttermilk, which also makes them fluffy and tall and way better than a regular biscuit.
Breakfast tacos: Sure, tacos may hail from Mexico, but the idea of putting scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese and salsa together in flour tortilla is the quintessential Texas on-the-go breakfast.
Chili: It’s hard to find good chili in a restaurant anymore, but I know lots of good home cooks who serve a terrific version. (No beans, of course.) Try to get one you know to share their recipe.
Frozen margaritas: The frozen margarita machine was allegedly invented in Dallas, so the frozen margarita is one of our gifts to the world. You’re welcome, world.
Texas citrus: I never much liked grapefruit growing up – until I tasted the ruby red, sweet, juicy grapefruit grown down in the Texas Valley. Texas Rio Star grapefruit are still the gold standard.
Pecan pie: Lots of southerners claim this gooey, rich pie as their own, but, well, the pecan is the state nut of Texas. So I’ll say it’s ours.
Fajitas: Many claim that Texans invented the fajita, at a restaurant called Ninfa’s in Houston back in the ‘70s. Actually, the dish of flank or skirt steak, grilled with onions and peppers and wrapped in a flour tortilla, probably originated with Mexican vaqueros much earlier, but Texas restaurants certainly put the dish on the map.
East Texas blueberries: I’ll put the sweet berries grown right here in East Texas up against any of those from those famous blueberry growing states like Maine. A cobbler of East Texas blueberries topped with homemade ice cream – now, that’s living.