Texan food writer, three time Beard-award winner, restaurateur, and Gulf oyster advocate Robb Walsh's new cookbook Texas Eats was just released by Ten Speed (buy on Amazon). A comprehensive look at the foods of the Lone Star state, the book is equal parts history and recipes divided by region, from the Gulf to West Texas to the Panhandle.
And this isn't just about tacos and barbecue — although those are in there, from old fashioned taco truck tacos to the recipe for the brisket at famed Austin barbecue Franklin Barbecue. Walsh explores all facets of Texan cuisine, from the German and Czech parts of the state to Gulf seafood to the new Texas Creole and its Vietnamese and Indian influences. Below, Walsh talks Houston chef Bryan Caswell's family barbecue crab recipe, Galveston Bay oyster culture, and making world class barbecue at home.
How is this book different from your other books?
The other books are single subject books: a barbecue book, a Tex-Mex book, and so forth. This book is an encyclopedia of Texas cuisine. Another thing that makes it unique is the last section on Texas Creole. Restaurants like Underbelly in Houston are taking the concept of the new Creolization we're seeing in Texas, and that section looks at dishes like fajitas with masala seasoning, or crossover Vietnamese or crossover Indian food. I think it's the first time anyone has talked about this new wave of Creolization Texas is experiencing.
What do you wish the rest of the country knew about Texan food?
Texas has some of the proudest seafood traditions in the country: oysters, barbecue crabs, and so on. Those traditions had fallen off a little bit, they weren't on the tops of people's minds. What I hope is interesting to readers is that the book not only covers chicken fried steak and vintage Tex-Mex from two centuries ago, there's also a lot of cutting edge stuff in the book.
With Foodways Texas we did a tasting of specific reef oysters from Galveston Bay. I read a 1902 newspaper story that talked about all the best reefs in the bay and the oystermen were fattening oysters in bayous, like they've done in other parts of the world. There was this rich history of oysters we lost. We found old maps and got oystermen to take us to those old reefs and then we did a tasting. The book is the first time the maps of the Galveston Bay reefs has been published in quite some time. Gulf oyster lovers are amazed to learn we have the same history of specific reefs and oysters by place name you see on the coasts.
I imagine people are going to flip out over the Franklin Barbecue recipe, but it must be different from the 18 hour smoking process Aaron Franklin uses at the restaurant. For example, it says at the end to wrap it in and then put it in a cooler or in a 200 degree oven for a few hours?
I'm often given the advice if you want to finish it in the oven it's fine because after you wrap it, it doesn't absorb more smoke. What he does is after he smokes the brisket he puts them in an igloo; then you have to have a whole bunch of brisket and they keep each other warm. You can't do that if you're a home barbecuer and only doing one brisket, unless you have a super small igloo.
Any recipes you're particularly excited about?
I think the home version of the Caswell family barbecue crab just totally blew my mind. Barbecue crabs were invented in the 30s and the versions we get in restaurants today don't really seem like barbecue. And Bryan Caswell told me his family has been doing them on the charcoal grill and painting them with an elaborate glaze and serving them with mustard barbecue sauce. This recipe done at home on a charcoal grill just comes out spectacular. Restaurants deep fry the crabs and that just doesn't make sense at home. The recipe takes an old Texas tradition and modernizes it.