Welcome to Texas Hill Country
Texas is so big that if you drive Northwest from Houston for 5 hours, you are still not even technically in ‘West Texas’ but rather a beautiful part of the state called Texas Hill Country (picture the area out past Austin and San Antonio). Known for its tall limestone hills and many beautiful rivers, Texas Hill Country is not only a gorgeous part of the state but visually unlike the rest of Texas. As it happens, my wife and I have family who have a house on several acres out in the region, so we visit whenever we can.
This year I was informed that for our visit, we would be treated to a traditional Texas Fish Fry. I thought it would be fun to share some recipes and also some views of the area for the uninitiated. I also thought that some Underwood Bubbles would be a great addition to the festivities.
The menu included fried catfish, hush puppies, Texas-style coleslaw and peach cobbler. You actually have to drive through a peach orchard to get to their property, but more on that later.
Let’s get the recipes out of the way first so we can enjoy the party!
Unlike many mayo-heavy coleslaws, this crisp and colorful sweet and sour version just uses sugar, oil, and vinegar. It is best made the night before for maximum flavor absorption.
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C cider vinegar
1/4 C vegetable oil
8 C shredded green and purple cabbage
1 C thinly sliced red bell pepper
1 C thinly sliced yellow bell pepper
1 medium onion thinly sliced
1 carrot coarsely shredded
Whisk sugar, vinegar, and oil to blend.
Add all ingredients and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.
These little bombers are absolutely integral to a good fish fry. Best made the day of, you can also make them the night before and warm in the oven just before serving. (Makes about 2 dozen.)
2 C yellow cornmeal
1/4 C AP flour
1 t baking soda
1 T baking powder
2 t salt
1 egg lightly beaten
1/2 C finely chopped green onion
1 1/4 C buttermilk
vegetable oil for frying
In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Stir in egg, buttermilk and green onions, mixing gently until ingredients are evenly combined.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a heavy skillet to 375 degrees. Carefully drop batter by teaspoonfuls and fry until golden brown, turning as necessary. Drain on a paper towel.
And now for the main event.
There are obviously many variations on the seasonings that go into the batter so feel free to add or subtract as your taste desires.
3-4 lbs of catfish fillets, skin and bones removed
2 C milk
2 T lemon juice
3 C vegetable oil for frying
1 C cornmeal
1 C all-purpose flour
2 t paprika
2 t ground black pepper
1 T kosher salt
2 t garlic powder
1/2 t cayenne pepper
Mix all dry ingredients and set aside. Heat oil in a large skillet until 375 degrees.
Cut fillets into manageable pieces—about 3-4 oz a piece. Combine milk and lemon juice in a baking dish and soak catfish for 5 minutes.
Working in batches, put several pieces of catfish in a strong ziplock bag (Texas Represent!) and shake well.
When fish is evenly coated, gently place in hot oil, frying for 3-4 minutes on each side. If doing several batches, allow the oil to come back to temperature before adding more fish.
Let fried fish drain on paper towels, and keep warm in an oven until ready to serve.
Then all you need is some ice cold Underwood Bubbles, cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, ketchup and a few willing participants with big appetites!
As mentioned above, our family’s neighbor has a huge peach orchard (Roaring Rock Ranch) and is always happy to share his bounty. They usually end up with 20 or so pounds of fresh peaches which they skin, freeze and use throughout the winter. We thought a traditional peach cobbler (with some Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, of course) would make the perfect end to the party. Apparently, Cobbler gets its name from its biscuit-style topping, which resembles cobblestones. (Ya learn something new every day.)
1 C AP flour
2 T sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 C cold butter- cut into small pieces
2/3 C sugar
1/4 C water
1 T cornstarch
5 C fresh or fresh-frozen peaches
1/4 C milk
1 t vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
For the topping, stir together flour, the 2 T of sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Mix in chunks of butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.
For the filling, combine peaches, sugar, water, and cornstarch in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat and stir until slightly thick and bubbly. Set aside, keeping the mixture warm.
In a small bowl, stir together egg and milk. Add egg mixture to the flour mixture, stirring until moist. Transfer hot filling mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. Using a spoon, drop flour mixture into 6-8 mounds on top of the filling.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream.
So there you have it. Everything you need to host your own Texas Hill Country Fish Fry. I want to thank my in-laws, Bob and Virginia for hosting and cooking up such a delicious meal, and my wife, Meredith, for motivating on making the peach cobbler.
Until next time, Bon Appétit!
Photography and Text by David L. Reamer. (@dlreamer)
Dinner prepared by Virginia Rizzari, cobbler prepared by Meredith Rizzari.