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April 3, 2019

Gather Around The Campfire

Interestingly, I developed a touch of writer’s block while conjuring up ideas for this blog. Typically, I jot down some random thoughts on the topic at hand and refer to them as the story unfolds on paper. The challenge with “Cowboy Cuisine” was all I could think of were visions given to me by Hollywood. Three distinct movie scenes kept cropping up over and over. Coincidentally the first two were both from Kevin Costner films “Wyatt Earp” and “Dances with Wolves”. And even more coincidentally, both times he was on the prairie eating wild buffalo over an open fire. The second, from my all-time favorite, the scene in Robert Redford’s “Jeremiah Johnson” when he spit roasted rabbit over an open fire. That iconic line: “you cook good rabbit pilgrim” inspired me, at the time, to ask my mom to cook me rabbit, undoubtedly one of the first times she thought I was well… a little different.

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To truly grasp the concept of “Cowboy Cuisine” you’ve got to get your mind away from simply bison and beans cooked on an open campfire fueled by “buffalo chips”, washed down with coffee boiled over said fire with loose grinds. The reason, “Cowboy Cuisine” is much more than that. It’s popular and can be quite delicious, and dare I say elegant. Not that I’m a lover of television food shows but look at the Food Network’s “The Pioneer Woman”. Lots of good cowboy cooking being celebrated there for sure.

When thinking of states that have a real cowboy culture, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and [of course] Texas immediately come to mind. Regarding three out of 4 of those states, BBQ becomes an obvious focus and justifiably so. Although Texas and Kansas think they get the spotlight for best BBQ, Oklahoma throws some AMAZING smoke of its own. Yet again though, cowboy cuisine is much more than just BBQ.

Years ago, I frequented a "cowboy" restaurant called Yahooz, in Leawood's Kansas. They were known for serving "contemporary cowboy cuisine" at its best. I loved this place right down to the custom cow hoof shaped rocks glasses at the bar. Albeit they had tons of great menu offerings the one I always gravitated to was their brined double cut pork chop. It reminded me of the pork chops I used to eat when I was a kid, lots of fat, lots of flavor. Unfortunately, Yahooz closed in 2009, perhaps a bit ahead of their time. But that remains one of my life long favorites.

Thinking further into it, the whole TexMex category translates nicely into cowboy cuisine offerings. The term "TexMex" first entered as a nickname for the Texas-Mexican Railway. The cuisine evolved during the 1950s in Mexican restaurants, whose popularity increased with the arrival of Mexican immigrants creating what we know as TexMex food, the mix of Northern Mexican peasant food with Texas farm and cowboy fare.

Everything from chili con queso, tortilla soup, and chili rellenos, which evolved into combination platters, overloaded with enchiladas, tacos, and fajitas, have now become the standards of TexMex menus. One of the most iconic TexMex dishes remains Texas Style Chili. Chili was unknown in Mexico and derived from the use of beef in Texan cooking. This Texas classic doesn't include beans or tomatoes, only beef, homemade chili paste, and a few flavorings. It's what Texans call a "Bowl o' Red" and tastes intensely of its two main ingredients.

We hope that you take a chance to create some elegant cowboy menu offerings of your own soon. To help you get started, try our Beef Steak Pie or Macaroni con Queso. Remember “Cowboy Cuisine” can be a lot of different things, but the one common denominator is that it’s always good.

Adios for now!
 

David Russell
Corporate Executive Chef - CEC, CAA
Custom Culinary, Inc.