|Napolean III of France|
Ah Cinco de Mayo, a chance for Americans to celebrate their neighbor to the south, Mexico. And this year, given all the campaign rhetoric, those of us who love that country, really should go out of our way to celebrate this 5th of May. Of course, Cinco de Mayo is overwhelmingly an American celebration. Many Americans believe the Festa is to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day. That would be Dieciséis de Septiembre which likely would never have made onto an American calendar simply because it’s much more difficult to pronounce.
No, Cinco de Mayo does celebrate a Mexican-only event. Mexico had fought two wars, one against the Americans (Remember the Alamo!) and the other a civil that had almost bankrupted the country. Its President then suspended Mexico’s foreign debt payments for two years. France, Britain and Spain were outraged and sent naval support to Veracruz to demand payment. The British and the Spanish negotiated a payment schedule and sailed home. The French however remained. Napoleon III imagined a Latin Empire that would favor the French. He called it the Second Mexican Empire. Despite being overwhelmingly
|The Second Battle of Puebla, May 5th 1863|
outnumbered, 2000 Mexicans fought off the 6000 French troops at the Battle of Puebla, crushing the French on May 5th 1862. There was much jubilation in Washington. President Lincoln had feared that the French would take advantage of the Civil War to meet its goals. So Lincoln may have celebrated the first Cinco de Mayo that very year. Now all of this is a very long way to get to today’s Cinco de Mayo celebratory post: Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Beef Fajitas. I can think of no better way to celebrate than with this American classic. Yes, American.
|Los Vaqueros, First Fajita Makers|
The Fajita didn’t even exist until the 1930s and it never existed in Mexico at all. The closest thing to a Fajita in Mexico is an Arrachera. A fajita is a Tex Mex invention. In the ranch lands of South and West Texas, Mexican cowboys, “Vaqueros”, on cattle roundups would regularly butcher cows. As part of their pay, they got to take home the hides, the heads, the entrails and meat trimmings like skirt steak. It is from the skirt steak that the Fajita is made. For years no one but the Vaqueros and their families even knew of the existence of this wonderfully flavorful cut of meat and the way it was prepared. Somehow they made their way onto high end menus, including that of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin. But once diners got a hold of these little strips of meat marinated in an adobo sauce for spice and flavor and served with traditional Mexican Guacamole, Shredded Cheese (Try Manchego), Salsa and Crema Agria (Sour Cream), there was no end to the Fajita’s popularity even when Taco Tuesday took hold.
You may have noticed my fondness for virtually everything Chef Tyler Florence does. The Chef’s “Tyler Florence’s Ultimate” is practically a bible of great things to eat. So when I wanted to cook Beef Fajitas (they also come in Pork, Chicken and shrimp), Tyler seemed like a great place to start. And it was. Tyler’s take on the dish steeps the skirt steak in a orange and lime juices to which he adds rich Brown chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, cumin, and cilantro. It’s the most time consuming part of the whole recipe because Chef Florence recommends marinating the beef for at least two hours. He grills some red pepper and onion, gets his condiments ready and after all of about 20 minutes he puts the perfectly spiced meat on the table surrounded by its accompaniments.
|The Essential Accompaniments|
Tyler goes the extra mile by making his own Guacamole. I’ve included his récipe here. He does suggest store-bought salsa, I’m happy to say. I took a couple of shortcuts, which you may want to consider. I bought Guacamole, Salsa and a bag of frozen roasted pepper and onion strips all at Trader Joe’s. The first two were phenomenal. The Guacamole is TJ’s Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole. Made with Greek yogurt, this a great guac with bits of tomato, red onion, and jalapenos in a creamy blend of avocado. TJ’s salsa selection gives away its California roots by featuring every possible level of heat and chunkiness. The choice is completely up to you. The package of Peppers and Onions was perfectly and quite honestly surprisingly acceptable. I do feel that given the simplicity of cooking pepper and onion strips, unless I was completely pressed for time, I’d cook my own next time. And here is the recipe:
Recipe for Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Beef Fajitas
For the Marinade or Mojo
1 orange, juiced
2 limes, juiced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 chipolte chiles, in adobo sauce
3 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 pounds skirt or flank steak, trimmed of fat cut into thirds or 8-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Lime juice, olive oil, optional
12 flour tortillas, warm
Guacamole, recipe follows
Good quality store bought salsa
First, make the marinade or mojo
In a small 2 cup measuring cup, or something similar size and shape, combine all the marinade ingredients. Using an immersion blender, puree the marinade until smooth. Transfer to a re-sealable plastic bag and add the steak, seal and shake to coat. Refrigerate the beef for 2 to 4 hours to tenderize and flavor the beef.
Preheat a ridged grill pan on high heat.
Drain the marinade from the beef. Lightly oil the grill or grill pan. Season liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Grill the steak over medium-high heat and cook for 4 minutes on each side and then transfer to a cutting board and let rest. Depending on the size of your grill pan you may need to cook in batches.
Once the beef is off the grill pan and resting, add the bell peppers and onions tossed with lime juice and olive oil, if using. Grill the mixture for 7 to 8 minutes until the vegetables are just barely limp.
While the peppers and onions are cooking, heat up the tortillas. Turn any free burners on a medium low flame. Place a tortilla on each flame and let it char about 30 seconds to 1 minute, flip the tortilla and repeat on the second side. Once heated and charred remove the tortilla to a clean tea towel and wrap to keep warm. Repeat until you have warmed all of your tortillas.
You can also heat your tortillas in a microwave, lightly dampen a tea towel with some water, wrap the tortillas in the damp towel and heat in the microwave for about 1 minute. Check to see if they are warm, if not repeat the heating at 1 minute intervals until they are warm and pliable.
Thinly slice the steak against the grain on a diagonal.
Spread some guacamole on a tortilla, top with a few slices of steak, peppers and onions, salsa, sour cream and shredded cheese.
Roll up the tortilla to enclose the filling.
Recipe for Tyler Florence’s Guacamole:
5 ripe Hass avocados
3 to 4 limes, juiced
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 serrano chile, chopped
1 big handful fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Drizzle olive oil
Halve and pit the avocados. With a tablespoon, scoop out the flesh into a mixing bowl. Mash the avocados with a fork, leaving them still a bit chunky. Add all of the rest of the ingredients, and fold everything together.
Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole so it doesn’t brown and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.