Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Beefsteak fajitas with fresh tomato salsa

I mentioned a little while back that I had picked up some skirt steak for the first time. It has a reputation as nature's Steak-Um--flavorful, quick to cook, flat--but it was an impulse buy and I didn't have any particular recipes in mind. A bit of later research turned up that this is the traditional cut for fajitas and since I've got a fajita recipe I like (from Jim Fobel's book Big Flavors) easy enough for a summer kitchen that sounded like a plan.

What I particularly like about Fobel's recipe is how he marinates the meat. On the bottom of a flat container lay out thin slices of tomato, onion, jalapeno and garlic and some chopped cilantro. (Leave in the stems; cilantro and parsley stems are just as flavorful as the leaves. In fact you can use all stems here and save the leaves for other applications.) Down goes the meat and then another layer of vegetables on top. For the second layer I used my pickled jalapenos and added a little salt to release juices. Seal it up and refrigerate overnight. It infuses the beef with some nice flavors and tenderizes it a bit. I've also done this with chicken breasts pounded flat which works well, too.

The salsa is just:
1 large juice tomato, 1/2-inch dice
1/8 cup chopped cilantro
1 whole scallion, minced
1/2 jalapeno, fresh or pickled, minced
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Mix and let sit on the counter for an hour for the flavors to meld.

Fobel actually serves this as whole steaks dressed with the salsa but I always slice it up for fajitas. If you're going to do it as beefsteak ranchero, Fobel suggests matching it with corn tortillas, pinto beans, corn-on-the-cob and grilled scallions. If you're going with fajitas, you'll need flour tortillas and grilled onions and peppers.

Since I don't have a grill, I toss the onions and peppers in a high-smoke-point oil and a bit of salt and then throw them into a piping hot cast-iron skillet. Let them sit long enough to start to scorch, stir them up and let them sit again. Maybe a third time, maybe not, depending on if they've gotten tender yet.

But before you do that, take the beef out of the marinade, pick off all the bits of cilantro and onion that stuck on and pat it dry. Cut it up into bite-sized pieces (on your special beef cutting board of course). Thin slices against the grain is best but I went with a chunkier option. That was a mistake as the results were a little chewy. Sprinkle on a little salt as there wasn't any in the marinade and you're ready to add them to the cast iron pan when the vegetables are done. Less than a minute per side should do the trick but the exact timing depends on how thick your pieces are.

Serve in flour tortillas with the onions and peppers and a spoonful of salsa. A dollop of guacamole's not a bad idea either if you've got some handy. And that's a pretty tasty fajita right there. The best bit is how the juices from the beef and the liquid from the salsa mix into a flavorful sauce that coats each bite and leaks out of the bottom of the tortilla over your hand. That second part's not so good, but the first part makes up for it.

One issue I do have with this recipe is the waste of all those vegetables in the marinade. They're a little mushy from the night in the refrigerator but there ought to be some use for them. I decided to run them through the blender and then boiled the mix on the stove-top for a couple minutes as there is some raw beef bits still in there. The result isn't the most pleasant color but it's got lovely flavors of onion, pepper and cilantro in a tomato base. It could live to marinate another day or it could work as a dip for chips. It's a nice contrast with the more tomato-forward flavor of the fresh salsa. I'll have to see how it tastes after it's been chilled before I figure out what I want to do with it.

Turns out when it's cold it loses all its zip. So, along with the leftover fajita bits and some pickled carrots, both roughly chopped, some white beans that have been sitting in the fridge, pepper jack cheese and rest of the (no-longer so) fresh salsa, it's topping some nachos. Not bad, but Garden of Eatin' organic corn chips sure go soggy quick. I should have trusted to the agrobusiness complex to engineer a better chip. If there's anything they know, it's designing corn products.

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