Okay, first let me offer up a heartfelt mea culpa for over four months of inactivity. My three year blogiversary came and went unremarked a couple weeks ago, although, in my defense, on that day I was making Indian food and smoking a rack of ribs, so it wasn’t like I was totally neglecting my culinary pursuits. Busy life, yada yada, but also feeling decidedly uninspired for a while. It just seemed like I wasn’t doing very much in the kitchen that I considered blogworthy. Not that I have suddenly had some mystical epiphany, but I had a bit of a prompt today that spurred me into action.
Good Mexican food is not an easy thing to find in the Cincinnati metro area, notwithstanding the size of this market. Yes, there are a small handful of reasonably authentic places, but most restaurants around here have the typical cliché, Americanized menus that a person of Mexican descent would scarcely recognize as his or her native cuisine. One thing that I truly enjoy is the simplicity of good street tacos — full of fresh, bright and savory ingredients that practically grab you by the lapels and scream authentic Mexican. The good thing about them is just how easy they are to replicate, even for a gringo like me who has only ever visited Mexico once in my life. The last time I had really good tacos in a restaurant, I made some mental notes, and ever since then I have been able to make my own without the benefit of recipes.
Today I happened to get a phone call from my son, who lives in San Diego and has access to truly amazing, authentic Mexican food. When I told him I was planning to make authentic tacos for dinner, he was incredulous at my assertion that mine were comparable to the real deal. My response, naturally, was: Challenge accepted! My favorite varieties of street tacos are chorizo, lengua (beef tongue), and tonight’s offering, chicken fajita style. Here are your ingredients to make about 10-12 of them:
For the marinade:
- Juice of 1 large lime
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
For the main recipe:
- 1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 4 tbsp. vegetable oil (divided)
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced into strips
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced into crescents
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
- 10-12 flour tortillas OR 20-24 soft corn tortillas (street taco size)
- Fresh lime wedges and cilantro for garnish
Start by mixing the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Pound out the chicken breasts to a uniform thickness of about 1/2 to 3/4 inch, and place them in a gallon-size zipper bag. Pour in the marinade mixture, seal it up, and toss it in the fridge for about an hour. When the hour has elapsed, heat a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat until it reaches the smoke point. Add 2 tbsp. of the vegetable oil and, when it is ripping hot, remove the chicken breasts from the marinade bag and drop them into the skillet for a hard sear. Reserve the remaining marinade — we will use it later.
Cook the chicken for at least several minutes on each side, turning occasionally, until well browned and the internal temperature reaches 165º. That should take about 10-12 minutes in total. When it is done, transfer the chicken to a plate or cutting board to rest.
While the chicken is resting, add the remaining 2 tbsp. of vegetable oil and throw the peppers and onion into the skillet, followed by the reserved marinade. Some folks may not feel comfortable using the marinade after it has been steeped in raw chicken, but as long as it gets cooked to 165º (which it will), it is perfectly safe to use and enhances the flavor of the peppers and onion. Sauté the vegetables until they are tender and well browned — they will initially release water and deglaze the skillet, so keep going until the skillet begins to look dry again. Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze the remaining lime juice onto them as they cook.
Meanwhile, slice the chicken breasts across the grain at a thickness of about 1/4″, like so:
When the vegetables are done cooking, stir the chicken back into the skillet with them just long enough to reheat it, and remove the skillet from the heat. With that, you’re ready to plate up with some fresh cilantro, lime wedges and your favorite hot sauce. Here is where I put in a plug for my personal favorite, CaJohn’s jalapeno sauce — pure, fresh, jalapeno goodness. And of course, I keep some of My All-Time Favorite Guacamole handy on the side. Just a quick note on the tortillas: corn shells are usually doubled up due to their thinner and more delicate structure, which is why I suggest having twice as many on hand.
My son will be visiting from San Diego later this month, so I plan to make some of these and my chorizo tacos for him to compare against the stuff he gets in California. Maybe I’m a little brash, but I think he’ll have a tough time tasting much of a difference. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!