Friday, September 21, 2012

Fast Friday: Chicken fajitas

Do you have a fear of making certain restaurant foods at home?

Um, believe it or not, I do.

Maybe fear isn't quite the right word, so let's just say I'm incredibly hesitant and usually unwilling to make certain dishes in my own kitchen.  At the time, I'll say it's because I don't have the right tools or that the ingredients are too "out there" or pricey.  But really because, deep down, I'm worried they won't taste as good as I think they should.

What's funny, though, is that the dishes that fit that description in my head are wide-ranging, from fancy to exotic to downright homey. 

Like eggs benedict.  Fancy pants city, people.  I've made it at home once, and the hollandaise (or, as Matt calls it, holiday) ended up with the consistency of melted butter, not thick and creamy like it should've been.

Or lobster ravioli.  It's safe to say that I'll never, ever make that from scratch.  Lobster, nope.  Homemade pasta, definitely nope.  And the patience to combine them?  Hellllllllllllllllllllll no.

Still yet, chicken tikka masala from India Garden.  This is, hands down, Matt's favorite meal in the world.  A few months ago I almost summoned the courage to make it but chickened out (no pun intended).

I'd like to think the average home hook, or even above average, isn't making any one of these on a semi-regular basis.  (If you, however, make eggs benedict for your entire household on a weekly basis, please refrain from commenting and sharing that fact with other readers.  And, you know, please come visit me at your earliest convenience. Thanks!)  All three dishes are relatively complex and even a bit exotic.  Not your standard everyday fare.

Unfortunately for me my ego, most folks wouldn't lump chicken fajitas into that category.  What's so daunting about seared chicken and vegetables in a humble tortilla?

Nothing, as it turns out. 

I'm now scratching my head, wondering what about chicken fajitas once freaked me out so much that I never dreamed of making them at home? 

The sizzling mini skillets!  Seriously.

Usually, when you place an order for chicken fajitas at a restaurant, the server will bring 'em out in a small cast iron skillet with chicken and peppers and onions snapping and hissing away.  The skillet is piping hot and sitting atop a wooden plank of some sort, the waiter is decked out in thick-as-tree-trunks oven mitts and warning everyone within earshot that, "Watch out, this plate is REALLY hot!"

Really hot it may be, and cute as a button was that skillet, there was nothing stopping me from making out of this world chicken fajitas.  Certainly not the super simple ingredients.

Definitely not the lack of high tech equipment -- all you need is a skillet and aluminum foil.

Certainly, the  cooking time shouldn't stand in anyone's way.  10 minutes max!

You don't even need to turn on the oven.  The chicken kinda almost cooks itself.

Maybe what was the trickiest part of all of this was that chicken fajitas are so ridiculously simple.  Tortilla.  Chicken. Peppers. Onions. Spices.  That's it!  There was nothing to hide behind if they turned out to be not so great.

But, there was nothing to really mess up in the first place.  How about that?!  Straight from my lips to your eyes.  Anyone can make chicken fajitas.  Anyone!

So, what's stopping you?  And don't say it's the mini skillets.  I'll find ya one.

One year ago: Chicken pesto mozzarella artichoke panini
Two years ago: Apple crisp for two

Chicken Fajitas
(adapted from Simply Recipes, who provides amazing details and lovely pictures)
-serves 3

A few notes: For my first fajita adventure, I opted for the simplest of preparations, using salsa as the only finishing touch.  We were blown away (truly!) by how flavorful the product was, but feel free to add whatever you love to make your fajitas fantastic.

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts (roughly ½-3/4-inch thick)
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 large red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch strips
3 (or 2 large) bell peppers of various colors, sliced into 1/4-inch strips
2 Tablespoons lime juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder 
Flour tortillas, for serving
Salsa, for serving

Whisk together lime juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, cumin, and chili powdered in a glass or plastic container.  Add the chicken, toss to coat, cover and let marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. Remove the chicken from the marinade.

Heat a large cast iron frying pan or skillet on high heat for 1 to 2 minutes.  Add canola oil to the pan.  As soon as the oil begins to smoke, lay the chicken breasts in the pan.  Let the chicken cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes, until you have a good sear.  Flip pieces and cook for another 2-3 minutes until well seared on the second side.

As the chicken cooks, line a bowl or plate with a large piece of aluminum foil.  Once seared on the second side, remove chicken from pan and place on foil.  Stack chicken breasts on top of one another.  Fold foil together, completely enveloping chicken, to make a relatively air-tight seal.  Allow chicken to rest for 5 minutes.  (Check for doneness.  If the meat isn't totally opaque, return chicken to hot skillet until cooked through.) 

While the chicken is resting, add the onions and peppers to the pan and cook on high for 2 minutes.  Use a metal spatula to scrape up some of the browned bits from the chicken and stir to coat the onions and peppers with the oil and brown bits.  Spread the onions and peppers in an even layer in the pan. Let them cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. You want them to sear with some blackening. Stir the vegetables and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.

Slice the chicken into strips.  Serve at once with the peppers and onions, some warm tortillas, and your favorite sides possibly including but not limited to salsa, shredded cheese, guacamole, and sour cream.  Enjoy!

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