Fajitas are an easy fall-favorite meal option

October 28, 2022

After living in Texas for almost 20 years, Jack never tires of eating Tex-Mex specialities for dinner. One of our shared favorites is fajitas (pronounced fa-HEE-tahs); he loves the beef and I love the vegetables.

While “faja” translates as belt and the suffix “ita” is an endearment or diminutive (which makes the word mean something along the lines of “little belt”), the name actually refers to the prime ingredient: skirt steak. When skirt steak isn’t available, you can substitute the more costly flank steak or the least desirable round steak.

Although we expect an order of fajitas to include vegetables, the original dish included only meat. From skirt steak sautéed with cayenne and wrapped in tortillas, we have come to enjoy the combination of beef, onions and peppers we call fajitas today (sizzling plates not required).

No matter which type of beef you choose, all require trimming and tenderizing to prevent unwanted chewiness in the finished product. Typical fajita recipes describe preparing the meat by removing any clinging fat globules with your fingers and cutting away any visible fat veins with a sharp knife.

The next step is to tenderize the meat with a combination of pounding and marinating. Here’s where I recently discovered a time-saving alternative approach. I’d planned to make fajitas for dinner, but hadn’t placed the sliced meat into a zip-top bag of marinade that morning.

Since we had a couple of hours before we usually ate our evening meal, I reached for the crock pot. I piled in the pounded beef slices, a generous squirt of lime juice, a splash of Balsamic vinegar and some beef broth, then covered everything with fajita seasoning.

After snapping on the lid, I let the contents simmer on high for about 90 minutes. When I was ready to assemble our meal, I sautéed the vegetables until barely tender, added the meat and seasoned juices, covered the skillet and waited five minutes before calling Jack to the table.

These were the best fajitas I’d ever made. To understand why the meat was both tender and juicy is to appreciate the three different types of tenderization used: mechanical, enzymatic and thermal. First, the slightly spiked metal hammer known as a meat tenderizer helped begin the process of breaking down connective tissues.

Next, we added some acidity to start the enzymatic tenderizing. The citric acid in the lime juice as well as the tart Balsamic worked their magic here. Finally, the low-slow yet constant heat inside the crock pot transformed the collagen around the muscle fibers into a soft gelatin, rendering the beef fork tender without drying.

When you’re served fajitas at a restaurant, you’ll usually find strips of green peppers as one of the ingredients. As you can see from the photo, we used only red and yellow bell peppers to avoid the bitter bite of unripe peppers picked while they’re still green.

Another difference is to replace the soft flour tortillas with the flavorful crunch of hard corn shells – this is strictly a matter of personal preference and calorie management.

Finally, don’t drown your lovely collection of meat and vegetables with salsa; instead, sprinkle on diced fresh tomato and shredded cheddar cheese. If you’ve included a great deal of heat in your seasoning mix, offer some sour cream to tame the fire. Now you can make perfectly tender fajitas at the (almost) last minute.

Fajita Marinade

juice of 2 limes
1 T Balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil
2 t cumin
2 t paprika
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t oregano
1/2 t basil
1/8 t cayenne

Whisk together ingredients and marinate meat for at least three hours under refrigeration. Yield: enough to marinate 1 to 2 lbs.

Crock Pot Fajitas

1 lb skirt steak
3 T fajita marinade
1 T beef broth

Trim steak of any visible fat. Pound gently with a meat tenderizer and slice on an angle into strips 1/2-inch wide. Place meat in a crock pot along with remaining ingredients. Cover tightly and cook on high for 90 minutes. Serve with sautéed vegetables, if desired.

Beef and Vegetable Fajitas

1 lb beef fajitas, cooked
1 T olive oil
1 sliced red bell pepper
1 sliced yellow bell pepper
1 sliced onion
1 minced garlic clove
1 t paprika
1 t chili powder
pinch cayenne
1/2 t salt, if desired

When beef has been cooked to desired tenderness in crock pot (see above), heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add remaining ingredients and sauté until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in meat and juices from crock pot; cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

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