Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chicken Girdles!

Being a fourth-generation native Texan, I LOVE fajitas! According to The Tex-Mex Cookbook, by Robb Walsh, it was Mama Ninfa Laurenzo of Houston, Texas, who originated the first commercial fajita in the United States in 1973. Mama Ninfa was born Maria Ninfa Rodriguez in 1924. She lived on a farm in the Rio Grande Valley, not far from where I am from. No doubt Mama Ninfa was familiar with Hispanic ranch hands marinating and grilling less desirable cuts of beef, such as the skirt steak. Butchers in the Rio Grande Valley called the skirt steak "fajita" from the Spanish word "faia," which means belt or girdle in Spanish. Over time as fajitas became all the craze, the term fajita began to mean any grilled meat served with flour tortillas, giving birth to "chicken fajitas."

I have tried a plethora of recipes for chicken fajitas over the years, even Mama Ninfa's. But the recipe that I always return to is Robb Walsh's from The Tex-Mex Cookbook. I like the simplicity and flavor better than more complicated recipes I've tried. I like my chicken fajitas with grilled red onion, red and yellow bell pepper strips, topped with pico de gallo, a generous dribble of Cholula hot sauce, and a dollop of sour cream. Delicious, or as my dad would say, "Hot Damn!" Robin's Tex-Mex Rice and Drunken Pintos make perfect accompaniments!

"Chicken Fajitas"

Serves 4, generously!

**Don't worry if you have leftovers. Make a "Grilled Chicken Fajita Pizza"!

1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
4, 7-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt, to taste
1 red onion, sliced into 1/4" strips, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper
1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1/4" strips, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into 1/4" strips, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper
8 warm flour tortillas (I always grill a few extra, just in case!)
Condiments of choice (e.g., pico de gallo, hot sauce, sour cream, avocado slices, guacamole, etc.)

Combine the onion, oregano, lemon juice, and olive oil in a blender. Puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a bowl (or plastic freezer bag) and turn the chicken breasts in the mixture until well coated. Cover and marinate for about 4 hours in the refrigerator.

Heat a gas or charcoal grill. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill over a hot fire, turning once, for 2 minutes each side. Move the chicken to a cooler part of the grill and cook, turning as needed, for 6 to 8 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and loosely cover with foil. 

At this point, grill the onion and peppers until charred and just beginning to soften. (I find using a grilling skillet or basket works very well, see Gadgets.) When done, remove to a platter or bowl. 

Smells amazing!

Next grill each tortilla until slightly charred on each side, and just beginning to puff up. (Up to 30 seconds each side, depending on how hot your grill is.) Wrap in foil or place in a tortilla basket to keep warm.

When they puff up they're done!

Once the onions, peppers, and tortillas are done, slice the chicken into long strips against the grain. Salt to taste. Serve with desired condiments and let everyone help themselves! 

Recipe adapted from Robb Walsh and combined with my techniques.