Walk through Dallas' most popular Mexican restaurants, and you're sure to see platters of sizzling fajitas whisked to tables. The dish's popularity rivals that of classic Tex-Mex combo plates.
EVANS CAGLAGE/DMN; styling by LISA VEIGEL/Staff Artist; food styling by TINA DANZE/Special Contributor
Yet, many fajita-loving Texans don't know how to make this beloved dish. What few realize is that fajitas are among the best quick-fix suppers, easy enough for weeknight meals and popular enough for casual entertaining. Made with trimmed skirt steak - a thin, flavorful cut of beef - the meat cooks in minutes.
Although fajita meats commonly soak up a well-seasoned marinade, sometimes overnight, an old-fashioned Mexican preparation requires only a squeeze of lime 10 minutes before cooking.
Whatever version you prefer, when you're ready to cook, a fajita supper is a speedier proposition than grilled burgers.
Mexican meat markets and large Hispanic supermarkets sell marinated skirt steak for $3.99 to $4.99 per pound. Plain skirt steak (sometimes called fajita steak) sells for about the same price, and also is sold at mainstream supermarkets. Many restaurants slice the meat into "little sashes" (the literal translation for fajitas) before cooking on a cast-iron griddle; but it's much easier to grill manageable sections of skirt steak and slice the meat thinly just before serving. Grilling over charcoal yields more flavorful results.
While you're buying the fajita meat, pick up fresh tortillas and fresh salsas from the market's takeout counter. (Some of the best tortillas are sold at small neighborhood Mexican markets.) Serve the fajitas folded into tortillas with pan-griddled or oven-roasted sliced onions and peppers, and salsa verde or guacamole. Serve the meal with chilled beer, and you've got the makings of a party. Easy enough for any night of the week.
Tina Danze is a Dallas freelance writer.
In a large bowl, mash minced garlic to a paste with salt. Whisk together garlic paste, lime juice, cumin and olive oil to make marinade. Add the steak, turning it to coat well, and let it marinate, covered and chilled, for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Grill the steak (drained) on a well-oiled rack set about 5 inches over glowing coals, for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until it is just springy to the touch, for medium-rare meat. (Alternatively, the steak may be broiled on the rack of a broiler pan under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare meat.) Transfer the steak to a cutting board, and let it stand for 10 minutes.
While the steak is standing, in a large skillet heat the vegetable oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking, add the bell peppers and the onion, and saut the mixture, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until the bell peppers are softened.
Slice the steak thinly across the grain on the diagonal, and arrange the slices on a platter with the bell pepper mixture. Drizzle steak juices over the steak and pepper mixture, and serve with tortillas, guacamole and salsa.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
PER SERVING: Calories 666 (49% fat) Fat 37 g (12 g sat) Cholesterol 91 mg Sodium 630 mg Fiber 8 g Carbohydrates 43 g Protein 43 g
SOURCE: Adapted from Epicurious.com
Look for well-trimmed skirt steak; it should be trimmed of elastic membrane and excess surface fat. Meat labeled fajita is the inner skirt steak; but many prefer the outer skirt steak (also called arrachera), a tenderer cut with a beefier flavor.
Hispanic markets often sell fajita steak cut thin, horizontally, which makes it quick-cooking. It's sold under the name "cut fajita steak." You'll end up with juicier, medium-rare steak if you opt for the thicker, uncut version; but if you're careful not to overcook the thin-cut steak, you'll still have good fajitas - in a flash.
One pound of meat makes enough for 12 fajita-filled tortillas, or four main-course servings.
You can buy skirt steak at most supermarkets. But if you want to pick up other items such as fresh tortillas and salsas, shop at Hispanic supermarkets (such as Fiesta Mart or Carnival) or smaller Mexican meat markets and grocers such as La Michoacana, which has multiple locations.
Cutting the skirt steak into more manageable (5-inch) sections makes it easier to cook evenly. Many Hispanic markets sell the meat already cut down to size, as well as in large pieces.
If you buy meat already marinated, there's no need to add seasonings.
For a minimalist marinade, opt for a traditional Mexican method: 10 minutes before serving, squeeze the juice of one lime over the meat and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Or go all out and prepare the marinade in the fajita recipe that follows.
Cooked sliced onions and bell pepper strips are standard fajita accompaniments. You can prepare them while you heat the grill and reheat them when the meat is done. For an authentic Mexican taste, roast and peel poblano peppers and slice them into thin strips.
Onions and bell peppers
For 1 pound of meat, count on 1 cup of onions (halved and sliced) and 1 cup of bell peppers (sliced into strips).
1. To prepare them on the stove, heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium-high heat.
2. Add the vegetables and saut for about 3 minutes.
1. To prepare them in the oven, spread vegetables in a roasting pan and toss with oil to coat.
2. Roast in a 425 F oven, turning occasionally for about 6 to 10 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked.
1. Roast them in a roasting pan placed under a hot broiler, turning periodically until the peppers are blackened and blistery all over.
2. Place in a plastic bag and close so that it can steam, for about 5 minutes.
3. Remove the peel with your fingers, and cut the pepper in half.
4. Scoop out the seeds, and cut out the stem and veins.
5. Slice into thin strips.
In Texas, flour tortillas are traditional. But corn tortillas are excellent, too, and more common throughout Mexico.
You can heat them, 12 at a time, wrapped in a dish towel, in a covered steamer set over an inch of water; bring the water to a boil for a minute, then turn the heat off and let sit until serving time. If you don't open the lid, the tortillas will stay hot for 15 to 20 minutes.
Alternatively, you can wrap six corn tortillas at a time in damp paper towels, then again in wax paper, and microwave for 30 to 60 seconds (flour tortillas don't need damp paper towels).
Prepare a hot grill, either with hot charcoal or by preheating a gas grill to high. For a charcoal fire, light the coals 30 minutes before serving.
If using thinly cut fajita meat, grill the meat pieces for 2 minutes a side; for the thicker (uncut) skirt steak, cook for 3 to 5 minutes a side, depending on thickness.
Ideally, the meat should be cooked to medium-rare; if you lose the rosy center, you also lose the juiciness. The meat is done when it feels springy.
Let meat stand for several minutes to reabsorb its juices. Cut against the grain into -inch-thick slices.
Place the vegetables and fajitas on a hot platter and pass around the table, along with steaming-hot tortillas and bowls of salsa verde or guacamole.
Fajita meat (skirt steak)
Tortillas (corn or flour)
Pico de gallo
Sour cream (optional)
charro or black)