When I turned 18 and was about to head off to college, my father decided that it was the perfect time for a crash course in simple but delicious cooking. I had eaten well up to that point in my life and was fairly at home in the kitchen, so there was no reason for me to revert to meals of ramen and mac & cheese from the box just because I was now living on my own, he said. And one of the first recipes he taught me was how to make chicken fajitas.
So, it seemed only fitting that last week, when my friend and coworker Jaime came to me inquiring if I had a simple recipe she could cook for her husband for dinner, that I passed on this little Mexican delight. What made it even better and infinitely more entertaining is that I decided to make the same thing and we decided to compare notes afterwards. So much fun. Onward to Whole Foods!
As I flitted about in the grocery store, seeking out the freshest peppers and the ripest avocados, Jaime documented the journey so my readers (reader? I think I have one reader at this point) could get the full, immersive experience. She asked great questions along the way, like what color peppers are best (any ol’ color you like) and should she get monterey jack or colby cheddar shredded cheese (we chose colby). Our baskets were the same down to the two for $12 tulips, and we were giddy with excitement to get home and get to cookin’.
Once safely in a cab on our way to our respective casas, I sent Jaime a stream of 10-15 text messages with instructions on how to cut the chicken, how to warm the tortillas, and ultimately, how to pull this whole thing off with ease (see below in non-text message form).
Overall it was a rousing success thanks to my father’s recipe and Jaime’s willingness to trust that I knew what I was doing (mostly). I hope this is not the last time we’ll cook together; it was just too much fun and I have many more recipes up my sleeve thanks to my dear old dad.
Easy Chicken Fajitas, courtesy of one HTRP (Hal the Retired Plumber)
You will need:
One pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ strips
Two bell peppers, cut into strips
One sweet onion, cut into rings
One jar of salsa of your choice
Black or Pinto Beans, drained and rinsed
One avocado, sliced
First things first. Let’s get some flavor into that chicken. Take a container of your choice (mine is a gallon ziploc bag) and place all of the chicken strips inside. Pour about a third to a half of the jar of salsa over the chicken. Then, take your lime and cut it in half, squeezing half of the lime over the chicken. Close up the bag and give the chicken a little massage. He’s had a tough week, he needs to relax. The idea is to coat the chicken completely in the ‘marinade’ so when you cook it, it chars nicely and has a tangy, spicy flavor to it. Once your chicken is thoroughly coated, stick the bag in the fridge for 30 minutes. This is usually when I do one of three things: 1) watch an episode of Parks & Rec, 2) entangle myself in a quick but intense rabbit hole of makeup how-to videos on YouTube, or 3) call and/or FaceTime my parents (which is just all-out hilarity, parents + modern technology = pure entertainment).
When the chicken is good and marinated, I preheat the oven to 250 degrees and grab my tortillas, wrap them in tin foil and stick them in the oven. By the time everything else is cooked, they’ll be perfectly warm and toasty.
Then, get out your pan (again, I rely on my trusty cast iron skillet) and heat it over medium-high heat. Add about a tablespoon of oil and let it get HOT. Not burning, setting off the smoke alarm hot, but pretty darn close (I set off my smoke alarm, whoops). When it’s ready, add the bell peppers to the pan, spread around the pan in a thin layer and leave ’em be. This will probably stress you out, you’ll want to move them around. But don’t! This is what produces that delicious char that you get from restaurant-quality fajitas. When the peppers have some nice color on them, move them to the side of the pan and do the same thing with the onions. When all the veggies are nicely charred, remove them from the pan and put them on a plate.
Add a little more oil to the pan and get it hot again, and grab your chicken from the fridge. Using a fork or tongs, remove the chicken from the bag, shaking a bit to remove excess marinade, and place in a single layer in the pan. As with the veggies, let the chicken chill where it is for a few minutes before turning so it has the chance to brown. Turn over the strips and brown on the other side for another three to four minutes.
When the chicken is fully cooked, add the peppers and onions back to the pan to warm them back up. Toss everything together and turn off the stove. The pan should continue sizzle, don’t fret. If you really want to impress your eating companion, bring the sizzling pan straight to the table (don’t forget a trivet!). It’ll feel exactly like you’re eating at Chevy’s Fresh Mex except a million times better.
Grab your tortillas from the oven and any or all of the fixin’s listed above (including the rest of the salsa left in the jar and the unused half of lime). From here it’s really up to you. I like to put my beans and salsa on the bottom, then the chicken/peppers/onions, then cheese, then avocado, then finish with a squeeze of lime. But you do you, friend. It’s your party.
As you can see, my and Jaime’s fajitas look decidedly different. My dad makes his so it is literally bursting from the tortilla (fat guy in a little coat style, I like to say). But I can guarantee that no matter how it comes together, it will be muy delicioso. Enjoy!