This weeks Blog looks at the differences in the UK and Texan approach to food and naturally the first difference has to be size!
Everything is bigger in Texas!
The first thing you notice coming to USA and Texas in particular is the sheer size of the portions. This is exacerbated by side orders one of which is normally enough for 4 people. The result of this is that in most restaurants you have so much food that a hoard of Waiters are required to deliver it to your table.
Now in the UK there is what we call the “waste no want not” mentality. This probably stems from the War when there were food shortages and rationing. This mentality has been banged into every child since 1945 and has resulted in it being seen as cardinal sin not to empty your plate.
So when I came to Texas following this doctrine, there was a severe chance I was shortly going to be the size of Mr Creosote or Austin Powers greedy friend!
It took me some time to discover (Fortunately before I exploded) that most American’s when they dine out, expect to get enough food to take home for at least one or two meals. In fact a number of friends, whose wives generally cook about as frequently as a Martian landing in their dustbin, happily live off these left overs on nights they do not go out.
I have also now learnt that there is a code in Restaurants as to how big the portion is likely to be.
– Small = Large
– Large = Enormous
– This is a generous portion = outrageously large
– You might want to share it, if you order this = Watch out for the forklift truck delivery!
Now my first experience of the sharing principal happened, when I ordered some chocolate cake. They said it would be good to share and I though fair enough my wife can have a slither. (One of the many good things about her is she is allergic to dark chocolate, unfortunately she compensates for this with alcohol consumption but that is another story). Anyway when the Cake (And it was close to being a whole cake) arrived it resembled something from the Roald Dahl film (Movie) Matilda.
Now normally per above my British instinct would have been to try and clear the plate. However this was such a gargantuan task I gave in, and for the first time and hopefully the last I took a box. 4 days later I finished the dam thing and restored my dignity!
Texas is worse than most in terms of size. You can get steaks half the size of a Cow, Veal chops that look like they come from a regular cow, and as for the Turkey legs they must have a Giant Turkey lab somewhere as the legs are more akin to something from the Flintstones.
Talking of Turkeys that brings me to the other Texan tradition of frying everything. Well actually I have to mention it is more of a Deep South tradition (particularly as I now have two Louisiana resident followers) that has come to Texas.
In terms of Turkeys frying it is almost a religious experience. On Thanksgiving day. (For the benefit of UK readers, this is when Texans along with fellow Americans express gratitude for all they have to be thankful for, and eat every Turkey they can find in honour of their Puritan forbears.) Here in Texas and across the South the men folk risk life and limb preparing the feast in a Turkey fryer.
The turkey friar is basically a large vat of oil heated using a gas bottle and a device to lower it in to the boiling oil, that is normally woefully inadequate. This sounds simple enough but carries the same risks as nuclear fusion, as evidenced by the high number of Emergency room visits that occur every year.
In terms of Turkey frying there are a number of things that can go disastrously wrong!
Error 1. Over heat the oil – Two issues result here. 1) The Oil will catch fire even before you start 2) The Turkey can explode. I kid you not, if the oil is too hot or the Turkey is lowered in to the oil too fast it will explode.
Error 2 – Assuming you survive Error 1 the oil can and normally does overflow. This makes the ground around the fryer into a skating rink so that when our Heroic chef comes to get his turkey he slips and drops the turkey or worse falls headlong into the fryer.
Error 3 – Losing the Turkey – Now I don’t mean actually losing it as they are normally huge but the rope, wire or whatever else you have used to lower said Bird into the oil can become detached. The world’s most dangerous fishing trip then takes place as you try and secure the bird and pull it out of the oil without frying yourself.
Error 4 – When you extract the Turkey you normally have a large heavy bird covered in oil. (For the more dubious male readers I am still talking about Turkey frying here, not a gentleman’s club) Now as stated in previous blogs Americans are not famed for their attention span. They forget the fact they have just withdrawn the bird from boiling oil at several hundred degrees and touch it! Leaving a lifelong battle scar to remember the day by!
Assuming the process is completed time to cook is around 15 mins (Excluding Emergency room visit!) And yes it tastes surprisingly good and is generally bmoist!
Now contract this with the safer but more sedate and time consuming UK (And North of America) method. The main day for Turkey consumption in the UK is Christmas day. On Christmas morning the nominated cook must rise from their slumbers at the crack of dawn and do the following:
- Stuff Turkey – This involved inserting your hand up its backside removing the innards known as Giblets then pushing stuffing (Sage and other ingredients) back in the hole. This makes the Turkey taste great but is a highly unpleasant task especially with a post-Christmas eve hang over!
- Placing Turkey in the Oven – If it will fit as many people (Ok mainly Men) overestimate the size of their oven. (Sorry for so many innuendos in this Blog)
- Roast slowly basting occasionally. (Basting = spooning meat juices back on turkey to keep it moist, a challenge when almost the entire oven is full of the Turkey.
- After 6-7 hours, unless you have died of starvation, remove heavy bird from Oven and try not to burn self or drop.
It will either taste great or be totally dried out! But whatever the result with British stoicism everyone eats it and says how lovely it is, so as not to upset the Cook!
Now Turkey frying is just the start, here in the South anything can be fried!
When I say anything I mean anything: Vegetables, Chicken, I have even had (When I first arrived) a fried crab which was a bit of a shock after having had a lovely Cornish the week before!
Texas Crab Last UK Crab in Falmouth before left for USA!
And yes the Cornish crab is that large, the mistake of letting my Godchildren Joseph and Harriet choose one for me at a restaurant when I was not with them!
Anyway they also fry Snickers, Cheesecake and Oreo biscuits (See below stall at Houston Rodeo). Though to be fair the Scots fry Mars bars but they are one of the unhealthiest races on Earth!
The speed of delivery and eating is also a big difference. In the UK and even more so in mainland Europe a meal is a social occasion to be drawn out and savoured, often lasting several hours.
In most American restaurants (Obviously ignoring fast food joints as they are meant to be fast!) you find that if one of your party is finished their plate is immediately cleared before anyone else has finished or perhaps only just started. This then encourages the others to eat faster. Also the food is delivered at what resembles a conveyor belt pace. So if you take time eating your starter, the Entree (Main course) is already being delivered to your table. This leads to a good turnover of diners but takes away some of the experience.
Then again it reflects the speed of life that most American Customers wish to live at. I always remember when I had a Saturday evening job making starters in a UK restaurant that if a table of American Diners came in, we pushed their food through before everyone else, or they would complain about the speed.
There are however some high points in Texas cuisine
A Texas BBQ is unlike any you will get in the UK. Also it is very important to note that what the British call a BBQ is so I have been informed called Grilling. A BBQ involves coating high quality large (Of course) cuts of meat in amazingly tasty sauces and slow cooking in a giant oven which has smoked wood producing the heat that is skilfully circulated by the Chef to achieve perfect texture. The highlight for me is the Ribs!
Now Texans take their BBQ seriously, in fact the World BBQ Championships take place here annually, and it is one of the few places I have ever been where men wear aprons as a badge of Honour. The size of the BBQ’s also have to be seen to be believed. (See below)
Loads of teams compete for the Championship, per middle picture, and the food is served up to those lucky enough to go to hospitality tents where they also generally throw in Beer and a Band. I am lucky enough to have been several times and when cooking is in full flow the smoke is so thick it is like being on a battlefield or in a forest fire.
They also even have branded tents and Caravans / RV’s.
The other Texas (And to be fair USA) high point for me is:
The selection of Oysters you get here is excellent. I have tried far more types and sizes than you get in Europe, granted they still insist on trying to fry some of them but most places serve them on the half shell albeit with dire warnings in the menu about the dangers of eating them!
The final difference worthy of mention is:
In America on top of the portions and the profusion of fast food (Which I have not covered as it is now unfortunately pretty much the same the world over) is the scourge of the Soda (Or fizzy drink to the Brits). Here you do not only get free refills (You pay by the glass in the UK) but the cups they give you in the first place are normally the size of a large dustbin. Coupled with the fact it is so hot here in Summer, that people take out a 2nd refill when they leave this is a recipe for sugar overload!
And no this is not me!
Alcohol is however the opposite. If you order a bottle of wine here you are definitely in the minority a) As many people order Beer but b) If they do order wine it is normally by the glass. This constantly leads to problems as if you want a bottle you need to speak to the server as though they are a caveman or cavewoman since they are normally on auto pilot and will automatically bring you a glass of wine.
The wine lists in many restaurants are also limited. This is disappointing as apparently after California Texas is the second biggest Wine producer in the USA. I was told this in Frederiksberg, Texas at a Vineyard so it may not be totally true, but Texas does produce a lot of wine.
Now I am not talking about the top restaurants as they have lists to match or even exceed good European restaurants but in most Restaurants Red Wine = Cabernet Sauvignon and White = Chardonnay. That said Spanish wines are great value here, I can only assume as the Hispanic population order so much of it!
So by this point dear reader you can now understand why I have put on so much weight since moving to Texas, (although there was one incident involving pulled pork, that resulted in me losing a record amount of weight over a very short period of time, and scarily it was the wife of the Hearse driver from the last blog perhaps trying to drum up business,) but I digress.
Anyway it is now the end of another Blog.
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The subject of the next Blog is the Law! And it will be more fun than it sounds honest!