Now a staple on restaurant menus and in our homes, the fajita had humble beginnings. Hispanic ranch workers originated fajitas in south Texas in the late 1930’s. Fajita comes
from the Spanish word “faja”, meaning belt or girdle. The “skirt” is the heavily used diaphragm muscle from beef. Often beef skirts, and other less desirable cuts, were given to ranch workers as partial payment for their services in trading or slaughtering cattle. The workers tenderized the meat by pounding it and marinating it in lime juice. The meat was then cooked over an open fire using wood from the mesquite tree, a hardwood which grows readily in the Texas open range. After grilling, the meat slices were wrapped in Mexican bread (tortillas) and called “tacos de fajitas.”
The popularity of fajitas has created a high demand for a limited supply of skirt steaks. Much of the supply of beef skirt steaks is sold to the restaurant and food service industry. Other cuts such as top sirloin, boneless chuck shoulder steak, flank steak or top round steak can easily be substituted for the traditional skirt steak.
Best beef cuts for Fajitas:
- Skirt steak
- Top sirloin steak
- Boneless chuck shoulder steak
- Flank steak
- Top round steak
- Chuck eye steak
Trim excess fat and gristle from steak. To stir-fry, pre-slice the steak across the grain into thin slices prior to frying.
Marinate the entire steak, 6 hours or overnight, in a heavy, resealable plastic bag. Grill to medium doneness and then carve across the grain into thin slices.
To re-create that restaurant “sizzle” at home:
Pre-heat metal platters or small cast-iron skillets until very hot over the grill or in the oven. Just before serving, arrange the grilled or stir-fried beef and vegetables on the platter and squeeze the juice of a lemon or lime over the meat so that it sizzles when served.
Although the authentic version of fajitas marinates the meat in lime juice, other marinade combinations can be used. After marinating, the steak is quickly grilled, broiled or stir fried.
Whether fajitas are prepared at home or in a restaurant, the fun comes from assembling them, much as you would a taco. First, take a warmed, soft flour tortilla and fill it with strips of marinated, cooked beef. Then, depending on your preference, add ingredients such as grated cheese, chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, guacamole, sour cream and salsa. Roll up your fajita and enjoy!