Is there a person in the U.S. that hasn’t been sitting in a restaurant when a server walks by with a loudly sizzling, obviously very hot, aromatic smoke producing dish well in front of him? No matter what you’ve ordered or thought of ordering, as soon as that dish goes by, there’s a pause; a question about changing the order. Isn’t there.
That’s what fajitas have the power to do to us. there’s something about the combination of peppers, onions, meat and condiments that make us happy when they’re all rolled together in a soft, warm tortilla. I know they do that to me. Warm and fuzzy.
Yesterday was a fajita kind of day. It was really hot outside so there was no way I was going to crank up the oven. I had no desire to stand over a hot grill either, but when I found a recipe that called for chicken to sizzle on the hot cools for a total of ten minutes, I had to give it a try. Being that it was coming from Cook’s Illustrated, not only is it a fajita recipe, it’s supposedly a “Better Chicken Fajita” recipe.
Let us begin with therapy. Stress therapy. Take your nice, plump chicken breast and put it between two sheets of plastic wrap. Say a little apology to the piece of meat (especially if you happen to have live chickens in the back yard) then go to town on it with a meat mallet. Pound the sucker til it’s 1/2-inch thick, then repeat with the others.
Once that’s done and you feel better, pour a glass of wine and continue the process. This involves whisking lime juice, garlic, Worcestershire, brown sugar, jalapeno, cilantro, salt and pepper in a bowl. That’s the marinade and sauce. Doesn’t it sound yummy? Some of the marinade is reserved, then more salt is added to the rest and poured over the now-skinny chicken breasts. As though they were put in a healing bath, the chicken will sit in the marinade, in the fridge for fifteen minutes or so, which is about how long it takes to start the charcoal burning and cut the peppers and onion slices. It’s nice when things work out well timing-wise.
Once the fire is ready, put the chicken on the hot part and the onion slices and quartered peppers on a less hot portion. Cook, flip, cook some more; for all three items.
When done, slice the meat, add a tablespoons teaspoons of the sauce/marinade and toss to coat. Slice the peppers, separate the rounds of onion, add a few tablespoons of the sauce/marinade and toss to coat.
There were four of us around the table (including a 5 year-old) and this meal is supposed to serve four to six. Everyone said that it was just a tease because it disappeared so fast I only got one. I could have easily eaten two or three more. The grilled vegetables already have an abundant flavor and adding the sauce just heightens it. The meat is tender, juicy and delicious. It’s everything real fajitas are supposed to be. Pounding the breasts thin and then grilling them made them the perfect size for the fajitas. It’s a great idea and it’s a fantastic recipe.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
I’d double the recipe.
1/3 cup juice from 2-3 limes
6 tablespoons vegetable oil plus extra for cooking grate
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
Table salt and ground pepper
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds), pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds (not separated)
1 large red bell pepper, quartered, stemmed, and seeded
1 large green bell pepper, quartered, stemmed, and seeded
8-12 6-inch flour tortillas
Whisk together the lime juice, 4 tablespoons oil, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, jalapeno, cilantro, 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Reserving 1/4 cup marinade, add another teaspoon salt to remaining marinate and pour over chicken, which has been placed in a shallow dish. Cover chicken with plastic and refrigerate 15 minutes.
Brush onion rounds and peppers on both sides with remaining oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Light the charcoal on one side of grill and heat to hot.
Remove chicken from marinade and place over hot side of grill, discarding remaining marinade. Put the onion rounds and pepper quarters skin side down on the cooler side of the grill.
Cook the chicken until well browned, 4-5 minutes. Flip chicken and cook an additional 4-5 minutes and fully cooked. Cook peppers and onions until crisp tender and a bit charred, about 8-10 minutes, turning once or twice if needed.
When chicken and vegetables are done, transfer to a large plate, tent with foil and keep warm.
Place tortillas in a single layer on the cooler side of the grill and cook until just warm and lightly browned, 20 seconds or so. Keep warm by covering them with a towel.
Separate the onion into rings. Slice bell peppers into 1/4-inch strips lengthwise. Place all in a medium bowl, add 2 tablespoons reserved marinade and toss to coat. Slice the chicken into 1/4-inch strips, add remaining marinade and toss to coat. Arrange chicken and vegetables on a platter. Serve with warm tortillas and any other accompaniments.
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