Paula Forbes never planned to fall in love with Austin. Born a Wisconsinite, she moved to the city in 2006. She intended to stay for a year before going back to grad school, but Forbes couldn’t bring herself to leave. She founded Eater Austin in 2010, and after a brief stint working at Epicurious in New York, she returned to the city of never-ending food trucks to write The Austin Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from Deep in the Heart of Texas. The recipes show readers how to make beloved dishes at home, from wild boar carnitas tacos to banana pudding from our own Daniel Vaughn. Texas Monthly talked to Forbes about the story behind her cookbook and got a few of her recipes. (We also talked to Forbes on a recent episode of the National Podcast of Texas.)
Texas Monthly: So, what’s the story behind The Austin Cookbook?
Paula Forbes: I think that Austin’s food scene has really evolved, in the short time I’ve been here and certainly over a longer period. We’re at a point where there’s both renewed interest in the food traditions in this part of the country and a lot of new influences in Austin, and it seems like a really good time to explore all of that. I like cookbooks as portraits of things at a moment in time, and I think this is an important moment in Austin’s food history to capture.
TM: How have you seen the food scene evolve since you started writing in Austin?
PF: When the economy crashed in 2008, suddenly everyone opened food trucks. They were a huge deal here. Think about all of the Austin restaurants that came out of the food truck scene: Franklin Barbecue, the original Odd Duck, Torchy’s, Sushi A-Go-Go, which is the original Kome trailer. . . If you look at who the big names are in the Austin food scene now, a lot of them started in food trucks.
TM: What was the process of choosing which restaurants and which of their dishes to include?
PF: I thought, what restaurants are the landmarks of Austin? Then I worked with the restaurants to figure out what recipe best showcases what they do, but also showcases their place within the Austin food landscape. A good example of that is the Bufalina’s Chorizo and Potato pizza. The original Bufalina’s on Cesar Chavez was down the street from one of the Veracruz All Natural food trucks, so that particular pizza was inspired by a breakfast taco that Veracruz makes. We actually have both of those recipes in the book: the breakfast taco and the pizza inspired by it.
TM: You mentioned that you wanted to make sure that all readers saw an Austin that they recognized. How did you make sure that the book represents the city?
PF: I tried to have as broad a sampling of Austin restaurants as possible, in terms of geography and price points. I didn’t want people to not buy the book because the restaurants were fancy or out of their budget. I tried to be racially diverse. I tried to have new and old Austin represented. I tried to make sure I have a vegetarian recipe in every chapter.
TM: Why did you decide to highlight newer restaurants in the New Austin Classics chapter?
PF: The rest of the book is organized by super obvious Austin food groups, like barbecue, tacos, Tex-Mex, desserts, brunch, and drinks. I had a bunch of recipes that did not fit into any of those categories, and I realized that they are newer restaurants, and by and large it’s a lot of foods that have influences that are not necessarily traditionally thought of as being Texan. They’re not necessarily bound by traditions, like that a brisket is salt-and-pepper rub and that’s it, but they are food that Austin is starting to become known for.
TM: What are some of your favorite recipes in the book?
PF: The Oxtail Pappardelle from Juniper is really good. I know that’s not maybe the most Texan of all recipes, but it’s really good! The Sunshine Roll from Kome is really nice. The Sauerkraut Johnnycakes from Emmer & Rye are one of the best recipes in the book—they’re easier to make than you would think. They’re yeast-battered but it only rises for half an hour, so it’s not a big, elaborate process. You just put together the batter, you put all the stuff in, and then you fry them in a skillet like regular pancakes. And they have sauerkraut, cheese, and pancetta—they’re just really tasty.
TM: Some of the recipes contain ingredients that people might not get on a typical grocery run, like quail or duck fat. Are all of the recipes doable for your average home cook?
PF: Of course! I’ve made them all in my home kitchen, so I know that it’s possible. I review cookbooks, and I’ve cooked from dozens and dozens of them. Most are not trying to be in your actual home kitchen, they’re more like a record of something that happens in a restaurant kitchen. But I’ve made all of these recipes in my home kitchen, and by and large, none of them are changed from how the restaurants do them. They’re scaled down, obviously, because I don’t want you making gallons and gallons of sauces, but other than that, they’re exactly what they do in the restaurants. The hardest recipes in the book are the barbecue recipes, and that’s just because that’s how you make barbecue.
TM: You made every single recipe in your home kitchen. What was that like?
PF: In 2016, I had a dinner party every Friday from mid-August until after Thanksgiving. It got to a point where a couple friends would just show up at my house on Fridays with a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine and be like, “Hey! I’m here!” It was really important to me to try not to waste food, although a week before the book was due, I still hadn’t gotten a recipe or two right, so I would make a batch or two and I have to throw it away. It ended up being good for the cookbook too, because a lot of my friends were like, “Oh, the fried chicken recipe is really good, the mac and cheese recipe is really good, can we try it at home?” So all the recipes in this book have been tested by me and also tested by other people.
Pig Skin Noodles with Shrimp Dumplings and Hot Sauce
The dish has been on the menu at Barley Swine, Bryce Gilmore’s flagship restaurant, ever since they moved it from the original space to its current dreamy location on Burnet Road. The restaurant preserves chiles all summer so they can keep this dish on the menu year round. “I like having a few interesting items that stick around for a long time,” says Gilmore, “for people to enjoy and rely on.”
Don’t be afraid of the pig skin: this is one of Barley Swine’s most popular dishes for a reason. Long, noodle-like strands of pig skin are simmered until tender, then tossed with a house-made hot sauce, shrimp dumplings, and almonds for a combination that’s reminiscent of a rice noodle bowl.
½ cup (120 g) plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 cups (480 ml) hot water
2 pounds (910 g) pork skin
1 pound (450 g) peeled and deveined shrimp, tails removed
1 garlic clove, grated or pressed
1 Thai chile, seeded and coarsely chopped
½ cup (120 ml) Hot Sauce (page 227)
½ cup (55 g) slivered almonds, toasted
Brine the pork skin: Dissolve ½ cup (120 g) salt in the hot water and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Put the pork skin in a gallon-size (3.8-L-size) resealable bag and add the brine; refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Drain the pork skin and pat it lightly with paper towels to dry. Roll it into a tight cylinder; wrap the cylinder tightly with plastic wrap and put it in the freezer until firm but not frozen, about 1 hour.
While you’re waiting on the pork skin, make the dumplings: Put the shrimp, eggs, garlic, chile, and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor and process until smooth. Form the shrimp mixture into small, round dumplings about 1 tablespoon each.
Bring two pots of water to a simmer. Remove the pork skin from the freezer and slice it into thin, long noodles. Simmer the noodles in one of the pots until tender, about 30 minutes. (The noodles should be about the consistency of a rice noodle when finished.) Set about ½ cup (120 ml) of the cooking liquid aside, then drain the pork skin noodles.
In the other pot, when the noodles are almost finished, simmer the shrimp dumplings until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Drain.
To finish the dish, combine the noodles and the dumplings in a sauté pan. Add the hot sauce and a bit of the noodle cooking liquid to make a sauce and heat, stirring, for about 2 minutes to combine. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with the almonds.
Makes 2 cups (480 ml) sauce
Sweet red chile ferment (recipe follows)
¼ cup (60 ml) banana pepper vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 ½ tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon MSG
3 whole Thai chiles
½ gram xanthan gum (available online)
½ cup (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled)
Heat all the ingredients except the butter together in a saucepan until hot but not simmering. Carefully pour the heated ingredients and the butter into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour through a strainer set over a bowl, then funnel into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator. Shake vigorously before serving.
Sweet Red Chile Ferment
8 ounces (225 g) sweet red chile peppers
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
Remove the seeds and stems from the peppers and place in a food processor. Pulse until the chiles are chopped — it doesn’t have to be super fine. Combine the chiles with the sugar and salt and place them in a clean glass container. Cover the glass container loosely with plastic wrap, making sure the chiles can come in contact with air to allow for fermentation. Place in a cabinet or another cool, dark place.
Every day for a week, stir the chiles and replace the cover with clean plastic wrap. As the peppers release liquid, you may need to put weights on top of the plastic to keep the chiles submerged in the liquid–dry beans work as well. After a week the peppers should taste good and funky, but you can go a bit longer if you like.
When ready, bring the mixture to a boil briefly, then let cool. Pour the mixture through a strainer set over a bowl and discard the solids. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator until you make the hot sauce.
Chorizo Potato Pizza
This pizza, served at Steven Dilley’s pizzeria Bufalina, is a bit more Texan than Neapolitan. Dilley told me, “This was inspired by one of my favorite breakfast tacos: chorizo, potato, and cheese. It’s something I pick up from Veracruz All-Natural regularly.” Breakfast taco pizza? Yes, please. (Check out the recipe for Veracruz’s breakfast tacos in the book.)
Makes 1 (12-inch/30.5-cm) pizza
¼ cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (30 g) thinly sliced red onion
½ cup (100 g) chorizo
1 small russet potato, peeled and cut into ¼ inch (6-mm) dice (about ½ cup)
1 ball Neapolitan pizza dough (recipe follows) plus flour for dusting
3 ½ ounces (100 g) fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into short, thin strips
¼ cup (35 g) sliced pickled jalapeños (page 226 or store-bought)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or parsley leaves
1 tablespoon crema
Place an oven rack in the top third of your oven, and put a pizza stone on it. Heat the oven as high as it will go (500 to 550°F/260 to 285°C) for 45 to 60 minutes. (If your oven has a convection roast cycle, use that.)
Whisk together the vinegar, ¼ cup (60 ml) water, the sugar, and salt, and pour the liquid over the onion. Refrigerate the onion mixture while you prepare the other ingredients.
Cook the chorizo in a skillet over medium-high heat, using a wooden spoon to break up the clumps of meat, until browned, about 4 minutes. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.
Turn the heat to low and add the diced potato. Cook until the potato starts to soften, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat back up to medium-high and cook until the potato is crisp and brown, 2 minutes. Season with salt. Set aside.
Assemble the pizza: Lightly flour a work surface. Gently stretch out the ball of pizza dough: first use your fingertips to press it out to about 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter, then use the backs of your hands to stretch it to 12 inches (30.5 cm) in diameter. Carefully place the dough on a lightly floured pizza peel; it will be pretty sticky.
Once it’s on the peel, top it with the cheese, cooked chorizo, and crispy potatoes, spreading everything evenly over the dough.
Carefully slide the pizza from the peel onto the pizza stone. Bake for about 8 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven and ad the pickled red onion, the pickled jalapeño, and oregano. Dress with crema and let the pizza sit for a couple minutes before cutting it into slices.
Neapolitan Pizza Dough
This dough is delicate and takes a while to rise. Plan ahead: if you start it at breakfast, you’ll have pizza for dinner.
Makes enough dough for 2 (12-inch/30.5-cm) pizzas
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (250 g) warm water
2 ¼ teaspoons (13 g) salt
1 teaspoon (4 g) fresh cake yeast (or ¼ teaspoon dried yeast, but cake is preferred)
2 ¼ cups (450 g) 00 flour, such as Caputo or San Felice brand
In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir the warm water and salt together until the salt dissolves. Add the yeast and stir to dissolve. Add half of the flour and mix on the lowest speed for 2 minutes using the paddle attachment. Swap the paddle for the dough hook attachment and add the remaining flour. Mix on the lowest speed for 8 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer and let rise, covered with a damp cloth, for 2 hours. Note: at this stage it won’t rise very much.
Divide the dough into two 250- to 260-gram portions. (You’ll have a little dough left over, probably.) Form each portion into a ball. Place the balls in a container covered loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise slowly at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours. Proceed with the instructions for the Potato Chorizo Pizza.