Aug 02, 2017

Let’s Talk About Tex Mex

By MaryAnn Miano

Tex Mex cuisine is a little bit Texan, a little bit Mexican, and it makes for a kind of cross-breed of wonderful, salivating flavors.   The nickname Tex Mex first initiated from the Texas Mexican railway in the late 1800s. It was the Tejanos, Texans of Mexican descent, though, who were the originators of Tex Mex cuisine.  This food style was a mix of native Mexican and Spanish foods when Texas was still part of New Spain and, later, Mexico.

The ingredients in Tex Mex are common to Mexican cuisine, but contain ingredients not found in Mexican food that are added to the fare. In Tex Mex, you can expect to find lots of shredded cheese, heavy use of meat such as beef and pork, beans, and spices, in addition to Mexican-style tortillas (made of maize or flour), fried or baked.

Texas-style chili con carne, burritos, nachos, crispy tacos and chalupas, chili con queso, chili con carne, chili gravy, fajitas (one of the most successful Tex Mex dishes that purely originated in Texas and not in Mexico), and chimichangas are Tex Mex invented dishes.  Serving tortilla chips and a hot sauce or salsa as an appetizer is also an original Tex Mex dish. Tex Mex offers full flavors such as cumin, which was introduced by Spanish immigrants to Texas from the Canary Islands, and Tex Mex grilling became synonymous with the great state of Texas.

Tex Mex can be considered native to America, because it is a combination of Northern Mexican peasant food merged with Texas farm and cowboy fare. It was in the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio where Tex Mex really came to be. It traveled up to other cities, such as Austin, and eventually, all the country came to know the enticing flavors of Tex Mex. The popularity of chili, nachos, enchiladas, and fajitas spread to other parts of the United States.  Tex Mex restaurants first surfaced outside the southwest region in cities with large Mexican populations.

San Antonio was also the birthplace of another Tex Mex standard: the combo plate. A restaurant called The Original Mexican Restaurant and owned by Otis Farnsworth started the trend in serving an entrée alongside rice and beans, calling it “the Regular.”  It became known as a combination platter, topped with sour cream and melted cheese, and became a signature Tex Mex way to serve.

These foods were considered Mexican food until the gourmet Tex Mex craze began in the 1970s by a noted Mexican culinary expert by the name of Diana Kennedy. She takes the credit for elevating this common food to become a trendy, chic fare. She began referring to Americanized Mexican foods as Tex Mex, and her 1972 cookbook, The Cuisines of Mexico, influenced the fate of Tex Mex for years to come. She made a distinction between “authentic” Mexican food served in Mexico and the food served in Texas, and didn’t care for the mixed plates served north of the border. People began to demand genuine Mexican cooking and began to snub Tex Mex. This caused Tex Mex restaurants to change the way they did business by adding bars to their restaurants and created festive cantinas with outdoor seating and decks. Ms. Kennedy’s characterization of Tex Mex was controversial, but also popularized Tex Mex as its own American cuisine category.

If you’ve never explored Tex Mex before, try the following recipe as a way to give it a go. You will more than likely be hooked on Tex Mex food from here on in.

 

CHICKEN FAJITAS

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons canola oil, divided

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 ½ teaspoons seasoned salt

1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano

1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional

1 ½ pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips

½ medium sweet red pepper, julienned

½ medium green pepper, julienned

4 green onions, thinly sliced

½ cup chopped onion

6 flour tortillas (8 inches), warmed

Shredded cheddar cheese, taco sauce, salsa, guacamole and sour cream

 

Directions:

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine 2 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, and seasonings; add the chicken. Seal and turn to coat; refrigerate for 1-4 hours.

In a large skillet, sauté peppers and onions in remaining oil until crisp-tender. Remove and keep warm.

Discard marinade. In the same skillet, cook chicken over medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes or until no longer pink. Return pepper mixture to pan; heat through.

Spoon filling down the center of tortillas; fold in half. Serve with cheese, taco sauce, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. Yield: 6 servings.

 

Originally published as Chicken Fajitas in Taste of Home August/September 2000, page 8