Fried Smelt

Fried Smelt

Fried Smelt/ThisTexanCooks

I love things that are easy, and it doesn’t get much easier than fried smelt. If you’re a fish eater and you’ve never had these, I encourage you to give them a try.  Make sure to buy them small (3-4” max) because you’ll be eating the whole thing and the bones get a little tougher to eat as they get bigger.

I use a combination of olive and canola oils to fry these, because I like the flavor from the olive oil. Half and half works well, but that can be adjusted as you like.

Fried Smelt

A dozen or so smelt, cleaned
1/3 c wondra flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
3-4 basil leaves, thinly sliced
oil for frying
lemon wedges

Heat oil to 325 degrees

Combine flour, cornstarch and spices in a bowl.
Place basil in a separate bowl
Rinse fish and toss in seasoned flour. Shake off excess and fry 3-4 minutes. Drain slightly on paper towels and sprinkel with salt. Place hot fish in bowl on top of basil and let sit for about 30 seconds. Toss fish with basil. Serve with lemon wedges.

Springtime Gnocchi

Springtime Gnocchi/ThisTexanCooks

I’ve been thinking about making gnocchi for quite some time. The hold up has been deciding what to do with them.

It’s not that anything you do with a dumpling can be bad really. I’d eat them right out of the water with a little salt and be perfectly happy, but that wouldn’t make for very interesting reading. (unlike this post, right?)

Well, at first I tried an East/West kind of thing with a variety of mushrooms and a Chinese black pepper sauce of sorts, but using Marsala in place of rice wine. It turned out ok, I guess, but I really wasn’t in love with it. Then I realized, hey it’s warm here, azaleas are blooming, it must be spring. So I decided that spring vegetables and flavors would be the way to go.

Gnocchi with Asparagus, Fennel, and Peas                    Serves 4

2# russet potatoes
1 egg+1yolk
1 1/2 c flour
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tbsp olive oil
12 asparagus spears, cut into 1″ pieces
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1/2 c finely diced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 c peas
1/4 c white wine
juice of 1 lemon
3/4 c chicken broth
salt & pepper
3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 or 3 large mint leaves, thinly sliced
1/4 c italian parsley, roughly chopped

To make gnocchi
Bake potatoes until cooked all the way through. Allow to cool slightly. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel and push through a ricer(for best results) or mash with a fork onto a tray. Refrigerate until chilled.
Bring a pot of water to the boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water.
Put the potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Stir in eggs, then flour, salt, and nutmeg. Working with your hand to make a soft dough. Dough should be slightly sticky. If too much so, then add a bit more flour. Turn onto floured surface and knead lightly a few times until it’s a solid dough and no longer sticky. Tear off a piece just smaller than a tennis ball. Roll out on the counter to make a rope about 3/4″ in diameter. Cut into 1″ pieces. Roll pieces up the back of a fork to create indentions. Put 1/2 of the dumplings on a floured tray and freeze.(When frozen store in zipper bag for later use).
Working in batches, place gnocchi in boiling water. When they float to the to top cook for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into ice water. Keep the water boiling.
Heat oil in a large saute pan. Add onion and garlic on med-high heat. Saute for 1 minute. Stir in asparagus, fennel, and peas. Add wine and lemon juice; allow to reduce slightly. Add broth and return to a boil, then reduce by half. Return gnocchi to boiling water to reheat.
While gnocchi are reheating stir butter into sauce, season with salt and pepper. Drain gnocchi and toss in vegetables and sauce. Toss in the herbs. Serve immediately. There should be 4 servings of about 12-15 each.

Chicken Fried Steak

Chicken Fried Steak/ThisTexanCooks.com

Me: What would you like for dinner tonight?

Yankee Girl(my wife): Well, we have some egg noodles in there, so maybe something with that? And creamy?

Me: Oh, I was thinking chicken fried stea….

Yankee Girl: OK!! (before the words could clear my lips)

That’s right. She wasn’t even born here and she knows…

There is nothing that screams TEXAS louder than chicken fried steak. Oh I guess you could make a case for chili or BBQ, but I’d have to strongly disagree.

The state of Texas is a gigantic grid of Farm to Market roads. They wind, they intersect, and they connect big cities to small towns, and small towns to what we call holes in the road. If you were to get in your car and meander along these roads, you’d find that every little town from the piney woods, to the hill country, to the West Texas plains has a mom & pop eatery who claim to have the best CFS in the state. And, there’s probably a framed publication on the wall or a t-shirt to serve as testimonial.

Obviously everyone’s can’t be the best, and I surely don’t have the foggiest idea which one is. What I do know is that every Texan has their favorite and that most are willing to drive significantly out of their way to get it. But of course, no matter how good it is…it’s not as good as Mama’s.

Chicken Fried Steak is definitely one of those things where less is more…simpler is better. No fancy seasoning blends and no marinades. It’s just a matter of getting the right piece of meat and giving it the proper cooking technique. Simple seasoning, a crispy crust, and of course cream gravy spiked with copious amounts of black pepper are all you need to achieve Texas on a plate.

For the meat, I think tenderized beef cutlets are the way to go. If you can’t find those, then just get round steak and pound it thin with the tenderizer side of a meat mallet.

Traditionally the gravy is made in the same skillet you used to fry the steaks. I hate to break the rules (wait…no I don’t), but I don’t like doing it that way. For one thing, if you’re frying more than a couple of steaks, then the stuff at the bottom kind of burns…and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that in my gravy. Also, by using separate pans I can have everything ready at the same time, instead of having to keep the meat warm while I make the gravy.

Chicken Fried Steak

Chicken Fried Steak/ThisTexanCooks.com

Chicken Fried Steak                              Serves 4

4 beef cutlets
1 egg
1c buttermilk
1/2c whole milk
2c flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp course black pepper
Oil for frying

3 Tbsp Unsalted butter
3 Tbsp Flour
2c whole milk
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Coarse black pepper

For the gravy
Melt butter in a medium sauce pan. Whisk in flour until completely incorporated. Whisk in milk slowly to prevent lumps. Add salt and a hefty amount of black pepper. (It should be peppery) Reduce heat to medium-low and cook stirring frequently.

For the steaks
Fill a cast iron skillet or other frying pot halfway with frying oil and heat to 360 degrees.
Whisk together egg, milk, and buttermilk. In another dish stir together flour, salt, and pepper.
Dredge the cutlet in the flour pressing down firmly with the very tips of your fingers to make sure the flour coats well and the cutlet flattens and gets larger. Shake off excess flour.
Dip the floured cutlet into the milk mixture, then repeat the process in the flour pressing exactly as the first time. Without shaking of too much excess flour, lay cutlet into hot oil. After about 2 minutes carefully turn steak over and cook for another minute or so. Drain on papper towel. Keep warm while the others cook.

Little Figgies

Fig Bars

Little Figgies/ThisTexanCooks

A couple of weeks ago, at the place where we picked strawberries there was also country market of sorts. There were lots of preserves, several fruits and vegetables, and…well it’s Texas so, barbeque. They also had a variety of fried of freshly made fried pies wrapped and held under a heat lamp. I couldn’t resist so got myself a fig pie.

Then last week we were at a tapas restaurant with friends and one of the dishes was pork loin with fig glaze. See a trend here?

So I wanted to make fig bars. Unfortunately, figs aren’t in season here for a few more months, but that’s actually no big deal because we don’t grow the ones I like for this type of thing. I really like Black Mission figs for cooking, and well, the dried ones work just fine.

Once the components are made for these they can be shaped in a number of ways. I did pinwheels, flatter “fig newton” type bars, and the rolls that are pictured. Each one has a different fig/dough ratio.

Also, one last thing; the dough recipe makes quite a bit. I froze half for a later use…or if you want a big batch of cookies, just double the fig part.

Little Figgies

Fig Filling
7 oz dried figs
1 3/4 c water
3/4c sugar
1/4c honey
2tbsp sherry vinegar
1/2tsp vanilla
1 piece star anise
2-3 mint leaves

3c all purpose flour
2 sticks + 4 tbsp unsalted butter, cold
1/2c sugar
1/ tsp lemon zest
1 egg + 1 yolk, save white for later use
2 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Clip stems from figs and cut into pieces. Place in a small sauce pot with remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. On a high simmer, cook uncovered for 30 min. Remove star anise, puree and refrigerate until cool and firm.

Combine flour, sugar, and lemon zest. Cut in butter. Add egg, milk, and vanilla. Mix until it forms a dough. Divide dough in half, shape into a disk and chill slightly.

To shape cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly beat reserved egg white
Roll dough on a floured surface until quite thin (1/8″or less). Cut into lateral strips about 3″ wide. Pipe a stripe along the edge farthest from you. Brush edge closest to you with egg white. Starting at the top, roll to create a long tube, overlapping the edges to seal. Cut tube into 1-2″ pieces. Place on parchment lined sheet pan, brush tops with egg white and bake 20 min. Cool on a rack then dust with powdered sugar.

As a variation the filling can be spread on the entiire dough sheet before cutting then rolled up and sliced into pinwheels.

Salmon Chowder

Salmon Chowder

Salmon Chowder/ThisTexanCooks.com


Spring Break is upon us, and for this week, so is my son; home for his every now and then visit from school. Since I clearly remember what it was like to be a starving student, I make it my mission to keep him full of food while he’s here. We always make an effort to hit all of his favorite places and I make the things I know he likes.

I’m happy to say that, like me, he enjoys eating most things, and is willing to try just about anything. One area that’s a sure-shot bullseye with him is seafood…wait a minute…and Asian food. So if I can hit the Asian /seafood “sweet spot”, then he’s definitely in his happy place.

This one may not be Asian, but it’s got enough seafood to keep him satisfied…and since his mom is a recent salmon convert, I think I can make everyone happy with the same bowl. Believe me, that doesn’t happen very often.

The trick here, as with all soups, is the broth. A good flavorfull one is essential. Since salmon parts aren’t particularly good for that, I use shrimp and crab shells.


Salmon Chowder                                   Serves 6

1 qt vegetable broth
2 c water
shells from about 3/4 lb shrimp
shell from 1 blue crab or 1/2 dungeoness crab
1 carrot, diced
skin and trimmings of 1 onion
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
5 strips of bacon, sliced
1 1/2 c diced yellow onion
1 1/2 c diced fennel bulb, save green for garnish
1 1/2 c diced carrot
3 cloves minced garlic
2 c diced red potatoes
1/4 c flour
1 c white wine
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp course black pepper
3/4 c heavy cream
8 oz fresh salmon filet, in two pieces
lemon zest

Fill a medium pot with first 8 ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce to a very low simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Pour through a fine strainer. Set aside.

In a large pot add bacon then turn heat to medium to render fat from bacon and cook until it begins to crisp. Turn heat to high and add onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic. Stir and cook vegetables for 2 minutes, then stir in flour. Stir in wine, then broth. Add potatoes, salt, and pepper. Return to boil, the reduce to simmer. Cook on a low simmer for 20 min stirring frequently. Stir in cream.
Add salmon pieces in simmering soup until just submerged. Poach in soup for 3-4 min. Remove and set aside to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, break salmon apart with your fingers and fold into soup.
Garnish with chopped chives, chopped fennel fronds, and lemon zest.


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