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Why Creamy Coleslaw is a Staple Side Dish in Austin, Texas Barbecue Culture

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In a place where the smoke from barbecue pits is as essential to the cityscape as the skyscrapers that line it, Austin’s affection for creamy coleslaw cannot be overstated. This tangy, crunchy, and indeed, creamy delicacy stands as a testament to Texas barbecue tradition, marrying the robust flavors of smoked meats with its refreshing zest.
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The Roots of Creamy Coleslaw in Texas BBQ

The journey of creamy coleslaw into the heart of Texas barbecue culture is as complex as its flavor profile. Originating from the need to balance the rich, smoke-infused meats, creamy coleslaw offered a cooling counterpoint. Its roots can be traced back to the early German and Czech settlers who brought with them a culture of cabbage salads, which Texans adapted to suit their barbecue-centric gatherings.

Over generations, this adaptation saw the evolution of a uniquely Texan coleslaw, distinguished by a more indulgent, mayonnaise-based dressing. It’s a testament to the melting pot of culinary traditions that define the state. The incorporation of local ingredients, such as Texas sweet onions and jalapenos, further entrenched it within the local barbecue scene.

Why Creamy Coleslaw Complements Texas Barbecue

The essence of creamy coleslaw’s appeal amidst the smoky boldness of Texas barbecue lies in its balance. The acidity and crispness cut through the fats of brisket and ribs, refreshing the palate. It’s a dance of flavors that elevates each bite and prepares the taste buds for the next, creating a harmonious dining experience that highlights the mastery of Texas pitmasters.

Additionally, the versatility of creamy coleslaw allows it to be a chameleon on the barbecue table. Whether nestled beside a pile of pulled pork, atop a sliced brisket sandwich, or simply enjoyed on its own, it seamlessly blends with the varied flavors of Texas barbecue. Its presence is both expected and necessary, offering a creamy texture that contrasts the meat’s chew and the bark’s crunch.

A Modern Twist: Mimsy’s Crunk Slaw

Recently, Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly highlighted a revolutionary take on coleslaw at Mimsy’s Craft Barbecue in Crockett, which he called, “The best coleslaw he’s ever eaten“. This version, known as Crunk Slaw, incorporates fried onion strings and a tangy Carolina mustard sauce, creating a delightful crunch and a burst of flavor that elevates the traditional side dish.

Here’s how you can bring a bit of Mimsy’s magic to your table:

Mimsy’s Crunk Slaw Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Coleslaw:
    • 1½ cups mayonnaise
    • 2 tablespoons Creole mustard
    • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
    • ½ cup granulated white sugar
    • 1 large head of green cabbage
  • Carolina Mustard Sauce:
    • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
    • ¾ cup yellow mustard
    • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 cups brown sugar
    • 2 tablespoons sweet barbecue seasoning
    • 2 tablespoons savory barbecue seasoning
  • Crispy Onion Strings:
    • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
    • ½ cup cornstarch
    • ½ tablespoon salt
    • ½ tablespoon pepper
    • ½ tablespoon granulated garlic
    • ½ tablespoon granulated onion
    • ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
    • ¼ teaspoon thyme powder
    • 1 large yellow onion finely sliced into rings
    • 2 cups buttermilk

Directions:

  1. For the Slaw:
    • Core the cabbage, then cut into quarter sections. Chop quarters on the bias before placing in a food processor. Chop until fine, possibly in two batches.
    • Whisk the mayo, mustard, vinegar, and sugar together and dress cabbage to taste. It’s recommended to make this part of the recipe the night before serving or at least a few hours ahead.
  2. For the Mustard Sauce:
    • Place ingredients in a sauce pot over medium heat while whisking until sugar dissolves and all is blended. Let cool before storing.
  3. For the Onion Strings:
    • Whisk all dry ingredients in a bowl to make seasoned flour.
    • Brine onion rings in buttermilk for 30 minutes.
    • Dredge the onions in the seasoned flour and deep fry in the oil of your choice at 350°F until golden brown.
  4. To Assemble:
    • Plate a scoop of coleslaw and douse in the Carolina mustard sauce. Top with crispy onion strings.

How to Make the Perfect Creamy Coleslaw

Achieving the perfect creamy coleslaw requires attention to detail and a respect for tradition. Starting with a base of finely shredded cabbage and carrots, the magic lies in the dressing—a delicate blend of mayonnaise, vinegar, a touch of sugar, and often a hint of mustard. The key is finding the right balance of tangy and sweet, allowing the natural flavors of the vegetables to shine.

For those keen to embrace the Austin way, experimenting with additions like diced apples for sweetness or a splash of pickle juice for extra zest can add an unexpected twist. However, the quintessential Texan ingredient remains simplicity. It’s not about overcomplicating but enhancing the natural harmony of flavors. And like any cherished recipe, practice and personal touches make it truly special.

So, as the embers cool on another Austin evening and the last bites of brisket are savored, the persistent presence of creamy coleslaw on plates across the city speaks volumes. It’s more than just a side dish; it’s a symbol of Texas barbecue heritage, a bridge connecting fiery pits to fresh-farm produce, and a reminder that sometimes, the simplest additions create the most profound flavors.

Daniel Vaughn, “Here’s How to Make the Best Coleslaw I’ve Ever Eaten at a Texas Barbecue Joint”, Texas Monthly, June 20, 2024.

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