Fajitas are a great and relatively inexpensive way to serve a crowd. Popular with kids and adults alike, they’re interactive and pretty easy to pull together, which makes them a hit at gatherings large and small. But there are some things you can easily mess up. Proteins that are designed to cook quickly are also quick to dry out, making for a fajita that is like a mouthful of sawdust. Improperly prepped tortillas are either not soft enough to wrap, or raw tasting. And you have to get your garnishes right if you want something that is more like an authentic home-cooked meal and less like $5 margarita pitchers night at GuadalaHarry’s.
The basics of fajitas are pretty simple, so I thought I would give you a quick primer on how to make them shine.
Cooking dinner shouldn't be complicated
You want the meat to be the star of the show here, so choose wisely. For chicken, consider boneless thighs instead of breasts, which will cook up more tender and juicier, and are less likely to dry out if you need to keep them warm for a bit. For beef, go with skirt steak. It is delicious anywhere from medium rare through medium, so it gives you a bit of flexibility, timing wise. For pork, you are looking for thin-sliced pork shoulder, which will have enough fat to hold up to cooking.
There are a lot of fajita rubs out there, and they vary from something similar to taco seasoning, to custom proprietary blends. Most will contain some mix of chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and garlic. You can make your own or find a recipe you like. I’m a fan of the Cocoa Exchange Mexican rub. Whichever rub you choose, plan on giving the meat about two hours before cooking. You don’t need more. Simply give your meats a generous sprinkle, rub them around, and store them in a container or ziptop bag until it is time to cook. If you are going to cook within an hour, and it isn’t overly hot in your kitchen, you can leave them at room temp.
Fajitas can be cooked outside on a grill or plancha, or inside in a grill pan or cast-iron skillet. They are delicious whatever you decide, so don’t overthink it. Pick the cooking method that is best for you. Preheat your grill or pan over medium high heat, and then add a drizzle of oil to your seasoned meats and smoosh them around. This will help the meat not stick and is a better way than pouring oil in your pan, which can create a lot of smoke. If you are grilling outside, you should oil the grate. Cook until your desired temperature, then transfer to a roasting pan and hold in a 200-degree oven till you want to serve. Do not cut until right before you are serving, or all the juices will leak out and everything will be dry.
When it is time to serve, cut your proteins into long, thin strips. For skirt steak, I recommend cutting the long steaks into about 3-inch-wide pieces, and then cutting those across the grain to ensure tender bites. The grain in a skirt steak goes the short way, so if you cut into strips with the grain, the meat can be tough.
These can be as simple or complex as you like. Strips of peppers and onion are traditional, and often grilled alongside or cooked in the pan after the meat comes out. Red, yellow or orange peppers bring a nice sweetness, but if you are going green, try fresh poblano instead of green bell, for a little more nuance.
Sliced or diced avocado is great, as is a sprinkle of grated cotija cheese. And some lime wedges for squeezing are a must.
Many people might also like some of the garnishes usually more associate with tacos, like salsa, cilantro, or sour cream, so go with your personal taste. I think fajitas seem to work best when kept somewhat simple, but everyone has their own style.
Fajitas are usually served with flour tortillas, and for good reason. They have a bit of stretch and elasticity that corn tortillas do not, and as such can stand up to the fillings without falling apart. You want these to be warm so either heat according to package directions or you can wrap the stack in a damp paper towel and then in foil and pop in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes or so. Then you can hold them in the same 200-degree oven with the meat until you are ready to serve.
If fajitas are sort of a one-stop meal for you, maybe with just one side dish, assume 2-3 tortillas and 4-6 ounces of meat per person. If they are part of a larger meal or buffet, then 1-2 tortillas per person and 2-4 ounces of meat.
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