I’ve finally nailed my fajita recipe. This has been my go-to dish at Mexican restaurants for years, like ordering spaghetti and meatballs at an Italian restaurant: If they can’t get this right, they can’t get anything right.
Funny thing is, I could never get it right myself. Until now.
NOTE: What you see in the pictures is double the steak and the marinade ingredients listed. I wanted leftovers.
1 pound flank steak or skirt steak
1 large yellow onion
2 large bell peppers
olive pomace oil (for frying, can substitute bacon fat)
juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 fresh jalapeño pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, including stems
shredded cheese (see below)
pico de gallo
Start with the marinade. I’ve seen recommendations to marinate the meat for up to two days before cooking. Seems a bit excessive to me. But everything I’ve seen suggests you go for at least an hour. I figure if you get the meat into the marinade first, and then clean up the dishes from breakfast, you should be okay. (If you don’t have dishes left from breakfast, well good for you. Some of us are lazy on the weekend. So there.)
Start by peeling and mincing the garlic. That just means chop it up really fine.
Juice the limes in with the garlic.
Split the jalapeños and remove the pulp and seeds. We don’t want the heat in the steak. You can add it later with the pico de gallo.
Dice the jalapeños very fine and add to the garlic.
Chop the cilantro roughly. Don’t worry about whether you get stems in or not. The stems are very flavorful, and this is just for a marinade anyway.
Add the cilantro in with the garlic and lime.
Add the cumin and mix.
If you’ve got a large, flat dish with a tight-fitting cover, you can marinate in that. I prefer using a zip-top bag. You’ll see why in just a second. Lay the meat out in a single layer in the bag. If you doubled or tripled the recipe and it won’t all fit in a single layer, use two or more bags. Divide the marinade evenly on both sides of the meat. (Or on all sides, if you’re using multiple bags.)
Then spread it around with your fingers. The cilantro soaks up most of the lime, so this is not the kind of marinade where you can just tip the container back and forth and it will slosh around. Get in there and really give the meat a massage.
Set the meat aside. Since I was only doing about an hour, I left it on the counter. Except for Beef Wellington, you always want to start cooking with the meat already at room temperature. If it’s cold when you startn the outside can be burned or tough before the inside is cooked. Turn the meat over and rub again about halfway before cooking.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of pomace oil — or other high-heat oil like peanut or canola, but definitely not extra virgin olive — over very high heat in an uncoated pan.
Leaving the marinade in the bag, remove the steak and lay it in the pan. Be very careful of splatter. You can’t hear it in this picture, but that thing sizzled like crazy when I laid it in there. It wouldn’t hurt to use tongs for that. Turn it over after no more than two or three minutes. Don’t crowd the pan; I had to do two batches.
When the steak is well browned on both sides, pull it out and slice thin slices against the grain. That means if the fibers of the meat are running toward you, cut across. If they’re running side-to-side, cut straight away. Long fibers are tough. You don’t want tough.
Set the steak aside and toss the peppers and onions into the same pan you did the steak in. Pour any remaining marinade from the bag into the pan to help deglaze — scrape up the brown bits from the pan.
Toss the onions and peppers frequently until the onions are translucent and the peppers are soft. If any of the cooked on bits didn’t come loose when you added the marinade, add about a quarter cup of warm water and scrape it all up. Keep stirring over high heat until all the water is absorbed or cooked off.
Transfer the onions and peppers to a serving dish and add the steak back in. Toss quickly to reheat it and brown up the cut edges. (If the cut edges weren’t still red, you cooked way too long in the first step. Don’t do that next time.)
Transfer the meat to a serving dish or, if you’ve got it, a pre-heated cast iron skillet. That’s how they serve this at restaurants. It’s unreasonably impressive when you can get the dinner to the table and it’s still sizzling.
I was serving this family style, and didn’t want a hot pan on the table within reach of the girls. So it all went into various plates: steak, onion/pepper mixture, pico de gallo, shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese, and warmed flour tortillas.
For me it’s all about the steak. That’s why there’s so much.
Mexican food traditionally comes with a soft, meltable white cheese called queso blanco — literally “white cheese”. If you can’t find that you can use Monterrey jack. But I prefer extra-sharp cheddar. The sharper the better. Don’t know why. But I’m not a snob for “tradition” so I go with what I like. So should you. Put a good layer down the center of a warm flour tortilla.
Cover with steak, onions and peppers.
A little pico de gallo …
… wrap it up like a burrito, except open on one end …
… and that’s it.
Want more like this? For more recipes like this, that you can hold right in your hands, and write on, take notes, tear pages out if you want (Gosh, you're tough on books, aren't you?) you might be interested in How To Cook Like Your Grandmother, 2nd edition, Illustrated. Or to learn your way around the kitchen, check out Starting From Scratch: The Owner's Manual for Your Kitchen.