Today is National Fajita Day. And that brings me to the burning questions – which came first? Was it the Chicken Fajita or the Steak Fajita? And as long as we are asking, just where did the whole Fajita concept come from in the first place?
All very good questions. Fajitas are a true Tex-Mex invention. While the culinary world discovered Fajitas in Austin in 1969, Mexican cowboys had been preparing the dish since the 1930s. During cattle roundups on the ranch lands of South and West Texas, beef was regularly butchered to feed the hands. Throwaway items such as the hide, head, entrails and meat trimmings of skirt steak known as Fajita were given to the Mexican vaqueros as part of their pay. Hearty border dishes such as Barbacoa de Cabeza (Head Barbecue), Menudo (Tripe Stew) and Fajitas Arrachera (grilled skirt steak) have their roots in the ranching practice.
Skirt Steak remained a throwaway cut of beef right up until 1969. That’s when a meat market manager in Austin Texas named Sonny Falcon operated the first commercial fajita-taco concession stand. The stand was at a rural Dies Y Seis celebration in the tiny hamlet of Kyle. That same year, fajitas appeared on the menu at Otilia Garza’s Round-Up Restaurant in the Rio Grande Valley community of Pharr. Garza credited her grandmother who taught her the tradition of grilling skirt steak with vegetables and to serve them on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas. Even then, fajitas weren’t a part of mainstream American dining until a German-born Chef, George Weidmann, became the head chef of the Hyatt Regency in Austin in 1982. Weidmann put “sizzling fajitas” on the menu of the Hyatt’s La Vista restaurant. Sales soar, and the signature dish became the most profitable in the Hyatt chain. Weidmann spent the last 20 years of his career at the Austin Hyatt while traveling for the chain to teach Fajita secrets with the other chefs in the chain.
So while the first Fajitas were skirt steak, today Fajitas are a multitude of thin cuts of beef, chicken and even grilled shrimp. The real key is to cook the meat with strips of peppers and onions together. Season well, wrap in warm tortillas and garnish as desired. In our house it’s a toss up between steak and chicken fajitas. Why choose when you can have them both?
Happy National Fajita Day everyone!
Sheet Pan Fajitas with All the Fixings
Pico de Gallo
5 Plum Tomatoes
1/2 Red Onion
1/4 cup Cilantro
1 Jalapeno Pepper
1/2 Lime, juiced
Kosher Salt to taste
Cut stem end from tomatoes. Split tomatoes in half, remove seeds. Dice tomatoes, place in a mixing bowl.
Cut onion in half from root to tip. Reserve half on the onion for the fajitas. Peel remaining half, dice finely and add to the tomato. Snip cilantro, including stems, into small pieces. Add to the tomato mixture. Stem the jalapeno pepper. Remove some or all of the seeds, depending upon desired heat level. Dice jalapeno, add to the tomato mixture.
Cut lime in half, squeeze the juice of half the lime over the tomatoes. Season with salt. Cover and refrigerate. Just before serving, strain Pico de Gallo of excess liquids and transfer to a nice serving bowl.
1 lb Flank Steak
1 lb boneless Chicken Thighs
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Yellow Bell Pepper
3 Cajun Bell Peppers, optional
1/2 Red Onion
1/2 Yellow Onion
Jalapeno Olive Oil or Plain Olive Oil
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray, set aside.
Arrange flank steak and chicken thighs at one end of the sheet pan, set aside.
Stem, core and slice the bell peppers into strips. Arrange peppers at the other end of the pan. Cut yellow onion in half. Reserve half for another use. Peel remaining half, slice into thin slivers. Peel red onion reserved from the Pico de Gallego. Slice into thin slivers. Toss both types of onion slivers together and spread out down the middle of the pan.
Drizzle everything with Jalapeno Oil (for added heat) or Olive Oil for less heat. Set aside to make seasoning.
2 teaspoons New Mexican Red Chili Powder
1 teaspoon Cumin
1 teaspoon Paprika
1 teaspoon Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Onion Powder
Kosher Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, paprika, brown sugar, onion powder, and kosher salt. Crumble dried oregano, sprinkle over the seasoning mix. Whisk to blend.
Sprinkle Fajita Seasoning evenly over the meat, peppers, and onion. Turn meat over to season both sides.
Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until flank steak is medium-rare. Remove the flank steak, place on a cutting board, and cover with a large metal bowl to retain heat.
Return the sheet pan back into the oven for about 15 more minutes or until the chicken thighs are cooked through , the onions and peppers tender.
10 Fajita Size Flour Tortillas
8 oz Spicy or Mild Guacamole
8 oz Sour Cream
While the chicken continues to cook, warm tortillas for serving.
Slice steak into thin strips across the grain. Arrange on a serving platter. Slice chicken into thin strips, arrange at the opposite end of the platter. Arrange peppers and onions down the center.
Serve with warm tortillas, Pico de Gallego, Guacamole and sour cream as desired.