Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Fantastic Fajitas!

I'm a bit of a "traditionalist" when it comes to fajitas.  The Spanish word "Faja" means, "strip" or "belt."  Cows have a diaphragm muscle that expands and contracts to help them breathe, just like we do.  The lower portion of this muscle is called the "strip."  Traditionally, this is called the "Fajita" and the Tex-Mex dish we've all come to love, is based on this cut of meat.

Now while I recognize that technically, chickens and shrimp don't have a "Faja" muscle and a sliced chicken breast in no way a true "Fajita" will make; BUT, you won't offend me if you call them "Chicken Fajitas" and serve them to me on a homemade flour tortilla with a bit of good guacamole... LET'S GET TO IT!

You Will Need:
  • Beef Skirt Steak (not Flank steak, and not Sirloin)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Your favorite steak seasoning
  • Chili Powder 
  • 4-6 Skinless Boneless Chicken Breasts

Other Elements:
  • Guacamole
  • Onion/Pepper medley (Grilled)
  • Sour Cream
  • Cilantro
  • Cheese
  • Pico-de-Gallo 
  • Flour Tortillas (Freshly cooked, homemade is best.  Go out of your way to find them)
Good fajitas start with good steak.  GREAT fajitas start with a good SKIRT steak!  Have a look at this gnarly belt of meat.  It's hard to believe that we're about to transform it into some of the most tender, spicy, and delicious fajitas you can imagine, but that's exactly what we're going to do!  Some stores will try to pass Flank steak off as "fajita steak" but don't you dare fall for it.  Ask the meat guy specifically for "Strip Steak!"
First things first; notice that there is quite a bit of loose fat, and probably a good bit of the membrane around this muscle.  It has to go!  You can peel most of it away with your bare hands, but you may need a flexible filet knife to "shave" off some of the more stubborn pieces.  Take your time.
Don't try to take all of the fat (fat = flavor), but you do want to remove the larger globs and as much of that tough membrane as you can.  Then, slice the strip into smaller 4-6 inch strips.  We'll eventually be slicing these across the grain once they're cooked, so you'll want to set your target to the size you want your fajita strips to be for serving.
Generously sprinkle each steak with Worcestershire, and a liberal shake of your steak seasoning, and some of the chili powder.  Make sure you cover both sides!  Stack them up on top of each other and set them aside to marinate while you concentrate on your chicken...
Chicken breasts are fairly thick when you pull them out of the package.  We want them to be as thin as the fajita steaks for even cooking and for a better presentation so... spread some olive oil onto each side, cover them with a layer of plastic wrap, and gently pound them out with the smooth side of a mallet.  Notice; my mallet (pictured) has some nicks in it.  My wife did this, pounding a nail into the wall to hang a picture.  I can't talk about it.....
Once your chicken breasts are nice and flat, season them with salt and a bit of the chili powder.  Stack them together so they can marinate while you get your fire going!
Time to make fire!  I believe that the flavor that a good wood/charcoal fire brings to the table is head/shoulders above propane gas.  This is 100x more true when it comes to fajitas!  You'll want a HOT fire here and the goal is to sear the outside quickly while the inside cooks up juuuust enough to be "done."
I do the chicken first.  About 3 minutes per side over a 700 degree fire brought my chicken's internal temperature up to 160 degrees.  Perfect.  Take them off and let them sit in a warmer while you do the same to the beef.
Lay out your steaks and let them sizzle for 3-5 minutes per side.  Keep an eye on the grain of the meat and which direction it's going.  After the meat comes off the heat, let it rest (wrapped in foil) for about ten minutes.
After a good rest, it is super important to cut the steaks into strips, across the grain!  The yellow cut marks in the picture should help.  If you cut with the grain, you'll be serving long strips of muscle that are difficult to chew.  When you cut across the grain, these strips are severed and they tend to fall apart much more easily!  This makes for an easier bite and a delicious "chew!"
Once you've sliced your steaks (and your chicken), they should be served immediately, while they're still warmed.  To add flourish, you can slide all of the slices into a hot cast-iron skillet and whisk them to the table while they're still sizzling!
The chicken should be sliced as thinly as your beef, just for a better presentation.  Personally, I prefer the beef, wrapped in a soft warm flour tortilla with some grilled onions, cilantro, and a schmear of good guacamole!

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