by Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
A recent trip to the big box store for one rotisserie chicken ended up costing me $220. Has this happened to you?
As I passed by the first item just inside the door, it was a deal too good to pass up: one of those cast iron flat top grills for 100 bucks! I had been wanting one, and this was an affordable, smaller and portable countertop version. And then there were the perfect headphones for my son’s birthday, and you know how it goes. They were put in the cart, and we left the store without a rotisserie chicken but now inspired to make fajitas.
Fajitas came about in the 1930s when Mexican ranch hands, vaqueros (cowboys) were paid partially in meat scraps butchered from the cattle. The cuts they were given were from the head, entrails and a muscle around the heart and lungs called skirt steak. The word comes from faja, Spanish for “strip” or “belt”. It remained a family backyard barbeque item for a few decades before making the leap to south Texas restaurant menus in the late 1960s, and eventually served on those sizzling cast iron platters thought up by German-born George Weidmann, opening chef of the Hyatt Regency in Austin in 1982.
Not long after the birth of fajitas came along margaritas in the early 1940s. The perfect companion for fajitas, margarita is the Spanish word for daisy, and daisies are a family of cocktails with a base spirit, a liqueur and citrus.
Here are simple recipes for both. Traditional sides for fajitas are refried beans, rice, pico de gallo (fresh salsa), guacamole and lime wedges. With the substitution of soy sauce for Worcestershire and the addition of baked or fried French fries (yes fries in the stir-fry), you can change this dish into the Peruvian staple called lomo saltado that is served on or alongside steamed rice.
Fajitas – serves 6
- 1 ½ pounds skirt steak, sirloin or chicken breast and/or thighs, sliced ¼” thick
- zest and juice of 1 lime
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced fine
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano leaves
- 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional for heat)
- 1 tsp salt
Place sliced meat in a gallon size zip-lock bag. Whisk together remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour over meat and seal bag. Massage the marinade into the meat and place on a plate in the fridge for 2 hours to overnight. This will be cooked separate from the veggies and then mixed together.
- 1 onion, red or yellow, ¼“ slices
- 2 red, orange or yellow bell peppers, stem and seeds removed, cut in ¼” slices
- 1 poblano, or green bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, cut in ¼” slices
- 1 or 2 jalapeno or serrano chilis, sliced (optional)
- 2 tablespoon vegetable or grapeseed oil, divided
- 6 – 10 flour, or corn tortillas, kept warm, wrapped in foil
- 1/2 bunch of cilantro, rough chopped (optional)
- 6-8 limes wedges
Heat a large skillet, or flattop grill on medium high. Warm your tortillas on the dry skillet until they are soft and pliable. Wrap in foil and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and then vegetables. Stir-fry these until they begin to soften and brown slightly. Empty skillet (or grill) onto a plate and keep veggies close by. Return skillet to heat (or allow grill to get hot again), add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and then drain excess marinade from meat and add to skillet or grill. Spread evenly over the cooking surface and allow to sear for a couple minutes. If they develop a crust that is bonus flavor. Scrape or stir around until the meat is looking cooked through and then add veggies to reheat. Once the meat is cooked through serve on a platter and top with chopped cilantro and scatter the lime wedges all around.
Note: Traditional style fajitas are whole pieces of skirt steak, marinated and seared over high heat. They are cooked medium-rare, then sliced and served with stir-fried peppers and onions.
Margarita – 1 serving, repeat as needed
- 1 ½ ounces silver (Blanco) tequila
- 1 ounce Cointreau liqueur
- 3/4 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
- agave nectar to taste (optional)
- 1 lime wedge
- small plate with 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 1 rocks or margarita glass
Rub lime wedge around rim of glass and lightly press on salt plate – salt rim optional. Fill glass with ice. Mix tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and optional nectar in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into salted rocks glass. Serve alongside a plate of fajitas outdoors with some good friends.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.