Fajitas are pure Tex-Mex food. They originated along the Rio Grande River on the Texas-Mexico border and were eaten by cattle wranglers. The skirt steak is the traditional cut used and was reserved primarily for the chief cowboy. Other cuts of beef can be substituted, such as flank steak or sirloin, but the skirt is by far the most tender, flavorful and authentic.
You might be wondering where the cast-iron griddle with the sizzling bell peppers and onions are in this recipe. While such a serving method may be dramatic, it is an affectation developed mainly by chain restaurants and is in no way a part of true Tex-Mex fajitas. You may prefer to add it, but I am still partial to the clean, simple taste of hot grilled meat topped solely with fresh tomato salsa and blanketed in warm, soft tortillas. I do make two minor additions in my recipe when oven-broiling instead of charcoal grllling: I add soy sauce to help the thinly cut steaks brown quicker, and I use bottled "liquid smoke" to replicate the flavors created by the more desirable method of charcoal-grilling. Otherwise, this recipe is as authentic as it gets.
1/2 onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons powdered red chiles
3 pickled jalapeños, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds beef skirt steak
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons jalapeño pickling liquid*
1 tablespoon corn oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
*NOTE: This is the liquid used to pickle and flavor the jalapeños. It is basically white vinegar with added spices, and there is always ample liquid in the jar or can to use in this recipe, without leaving the remaining jalapeños dry.
Place half of the onions in the bottom of a nonreactive dish. Mix the cumin, powdered red chiles, chopped jalapeños and garlic together in a small bowl, then rub on all sides of the meat. Put the skirt steak into the dish, on top of the onions. Pour the lime juice and the jalapeño liquid over all areas to coat. Sprinkle the remaining onions on top of the meat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight, turning once.
Preheat the grill or broiler until hot. Fajitas need to cook close to a very high heat source, in order to sear the outside but still leave the interior medium rare. Mix together the oil and, if you are using them, the soy sauce and liquid smoke. Brush or spoon the oil mixture onto the meat surfaces. Grill or broil about 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until the outside is brown and slightly charred, and the inside is still slightly pink.
Remove the meat to a cutting board. Let sit 5 minutes before slicing. Cut the meat into thin strips that can easily be rolled into tortillas. Serve with warm, soft flour tortillas and fresh Pico de Gallo or Salsa Fresca.
© 1998, Katherine Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
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