Robb Walsh's latest publication, The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook, belongs to a very distinctive category of cookbooks -- the kind that's just as much fun to read as it is to cook from. Easy, informative prose is what you'd expect from Walsh, who certainly needs no introduction around here. And there's no contesting that the man knows his stuff.
Even if you're not a cook, or you'd rather be lazy and hit up your favorite neighborhood Tex-Mex joint, this cookbook will deepen your understanding and appreciation of the history of the food we all love so dearly. Many a food geek will enjoy learning about the origin of the frozen margarita (a story which inspired this cook to bust out her ice-cream maker for happy hour) or adding road-trip-worthy restaurant destinations to an ever-growing list. And if you are someone who does enjoy cooking--and grilling--at home, you're likely to find your brain and stomach buzzing from the recipes in this book.
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Be warned: This is not a coffee-table cookbook, with well-lit shots of beautifully styled food. It's styled almost like a graphic novel, with bold fonts, sidebars, and a three-color scheme. Full and double-page black-and-white photographs, many of them Walsh's own, introduce grill masters, restaurant proprietors, troughs of chile peppers, and picnic tables piled high with food. Everything about the book's styling screams "gritty" and "authentic."
The classics you'd expect are all here, from the aforementioned margaritas to all-American guacamole to fajitas and snapper a la plancha. But there are also surprises, recipes that utilize Tex-Mex flavors, with a hat tip to Houston's diverse demographics and palate. Viet-Mex Fajita Rolls, Black Bean Hummus, and Ancho-Root Beer Hot Wings will serve perfectly as snack food for the upcoming football season, and Texas hunters will appreciate the inclusion of game recipes: quail with cilantro cream and grilled backstrap among them.
As a genre cookbook, Tex-Mex Grill is extremely thorough, with a chile pepper glossary, cow-cuts diagram, and lists for grilling-tool essentials and mail-order resources, much of which seems tailored specifically for a non-Texas audience. The world would be a better place if anyone unfamiliar with what constitutes true Tex-Mex flavor gave this book a go, especially the proprietors and patrons of most "Tex-Mex" joints we've ever eaten in above the Mason-Dixon line. Still, does anyone actually need a recipe for Onions and Cilantro? (In case you're wondering, you combine ½ cup chopped onions, one tablespoon minced fresh cilantro, and the juice of one lime in a bowl).
Extreme detail aside, Walsh's book is a fun read -- a equal parts history, ode, and guide -- a celebration of all things char-grilled and Tex-Mex. More than anything, though, it will make you very, very hungry.