You don't have to live south of the border to enjoy delicious fajitas. When prepared at home, fajitas are an economical use of your food budget because the marinade tenderizes less expensive and tough cuts of meat, such as skirt steak. Chicken and shrimp also sizzle in Mexican goodness, so plan your fajita meal based on what's on sale at the store, and spend just a little time in the kitchen to enjoy big flavors.
The secret to all good fajitas is the marinade. Whip up a marinade of oil, garlic, and dried fiesta ranch dip mix in the morning, and pour it over a protein in a resealable bag. Make sure you add a generous amount of lime juice, because the acid in the juice breaks down tougher fibers in the meat. As much as you like your spice, remember to go easy on the hot ingredients so that you can introduce your children to the culinary greatness of Mexico. Beef benefits from long marinating. Chicken needs less than an hour and seafood begins to "cook" in the acid if left in the marinade longer than 15 minutes.
On a busy weeknight, you may not have the time or inclination to fire up the grill, but fajitas are at their most divine when the spicy marinade mixes with the smoke of the grill. If you have an indoor grill or a gas grill, consider those as quick, weeknight alternatives. If time is on your side, though, go for the grill. Allow steak and chicken to rest 5 minutes for after cooking before cutting across the grain to keep the flavorful juices inside the meat
If you're used to Americanizing exotic cuisines, the stove top works in a pinch. You won't achieve the smoky flavor profile, but you'll at least get close to the idea of fajitas. In a hot skillet, sear steak, shrimp, or chicken in the heat until cooked to the appropriate doneness. Because you need a hot skillet, though, you may cause smoke, so turn on the exhaust fan and open a window or two before you get started.
If the one appliance you've mastered in your kitchen is the slow cooker, then you're in luck. Fajitas are actually delicious when simmered all day in the slow cooker. Rather than marinating steak or chicken in the refrigerator, allow the slow cooker to braise the meat with a dry rub of packaged seasoning mix or a spicy marinade throughout the day, rendering the meat fork-tender and juicy.
Fajitas aren't fajitas without the sides, which can be prepared in the morning before you leave for work or while you multi-task in the kitchen chopping vegetables and providing homework guidance. Sautéed onions and bell peppers are ready in about 10 to 15 minutes on the stove, and are to fajitas what peas are to carrots. Don't forget warm flour tortillas, diced pico de gallo (or just tomatoes for the less adventurous or the young palates), cheese, sour cream or creamy dressing and guacamole. Your kids will learn to olé in no time.
- "Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen"; Rick Bayless; 1996
- El Paso Chile: Fajita Grill
- "Necessities and Temptations"; Junior League of Austin; 1987
- "Woman's Day"; Shrimp and Scallops Fajita Recipe; March 2010
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