Fajitas always make a grand sizzling entrance with steam rising up from the skillet and swirling toward the ceiling. Made with a little meat and a pile of vegetables, they also rank high on the healthy meal list. Served with a stack of tortillas, salsas, guacamole, sour cream and cheese, fajitas give the eater the freedom to consume them however and with whatever they like – a build your own taco meal.
Fajitas are considered a Tex-Mex dish, and originated as a way for the vaqueros working on Texas ranches to consume skirt steak, then considered one of the throw-away parts of cattle along with the head, the hide and the entrails. The tradition of making fajitas can be traced back as far as the 1930s. A Texas meat market manager, Sonny Falcon, ran the first fajita stand in 1969 in Kyle, Texas. Another woman, Otilia Garza, served them in her restaurant in Pharr, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, and maintained that her grandmother, a restaurateur in Reynosa, Mexico had traditionally prepared skirt steak on the grill. Sometimes, good ideas originate in many places.
In 1973, a woman named Ninfa Rodriguez Laurenzo opened a restaurant with fajitas, aka tacos al carbon, on the menu. Almost a decade later, in 1982, a German-born chef named George Weidmann put fajitas on the menu as he was opening the restaurant at the Austin Hyatt Regency. Their popularity made the Austin Hyatt’s restaurant the most popular in the chain. The popularity of the dish had restaurateurs substituting better cuts of meat for skirt-steak, and soon, the fajita evolved into a Mexican restaurant favorite across the country. It could be ordered with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp or vegetarian. For more on the history of fajitas, read the 2005 article, “Fajita History” from the Austin Chronicle.
My recipe also has a few twists and secrets that I will share with you. I had opened a Pacifico beer, but decided I didn’t want to drink it. What a lucky accident, because that beer became the amazing adaptation in my fajita recipe. I also added a few more vegetables to the mix, some Chinese snow peas and tomato wedges. I cut up the vegetables early in the day – you could even cut them the day before – and placed them in a plastic zip bag, where they were able to marinate in their own juices all day. I peeled the shrimp and marinated them with minced garlic in the tradition of camarones al mojo de ajo. All of this early preparation paid off in the evening, when all I had to do was load the seasoned skillet with the ingredients and turn on the flame.
(Makes 4 servings of fajitas)
1 lb. 21-25 count shrimp
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced lengthwise
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced lengthwise
1 orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced lengthwise
1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced lengthwise
1 brown or sweet onion, sliced into 8 wedges
1 vine ripe tomato, each sliced into 8 wedges
1/2 cup Chinese snow peas
1/4 cup lime juice
oil for seasoning the pan and cooking (extra virgin olive oil, grape seed oil or coconut oil)
1. Slice all of the vegetables at least 3 hours before you plan to cook the fajitas. Place them in a large plastic zip bag and refrigerate.
2. Peel the shrimp, and devein if necessary. Rinse the shrimp, pat dry, and place in a large plastic zip bag with 1 tbsp. minced garlic.
3. Season a large cast iron skillet or fajita pan by rubbing oil on its surface with a paper towel.
4. Place the pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Pour a teaspoon of oil into the pan. Once it is heated to temperature, it will shimmer.
5. Place some vegetables in the pan. Cook in batches. Do not crowd the pan or you will not be able to stir the ingredients around, and they won’t cook well. Once the vegetables have begun to brown (several minutes later,) add the shrimp. Don’t add it first because shrimp takes less time to cook than the vegetables.
6. For amazing flavor, pour some lime juice and a splash of Pacifico Beer over the fajitas as they cook. It will cause them to steam up and sizzle, but soon it will calm. Continue to stir the contents of the pan around, and add another splash of beer and lime each time they seem to dry out a little. You may do this three or four times during cooking.
7. Once your first batch of fajitas is done, remove it from the heat source and begin cooking the next batch, repeating all of the steps. If you are making them for many people, or like cooking them often, you may want to use two pans.
8. Serve the fajitas while steaming hot right in the pan they were cooked in. Make sure to have warm tortillas and all the toppings such as salsa and guacamole available.
9. Sit down and enjoy the flavor of Shrimp Fajitas del Pacifico in good company.
Note: If you are eating gluten-free, you can try substituting one of the gluten-free varieties of beer for Pacifico, or use Tamari instead.
Pacifico Beer is distributed by Crown Imports, LLC. To learn more about the beer and its history, visit http://www.crownimportsllc.com/ourbrands/pacifico.htm
Four our Fajitas de Calabacitas vegetarian recipe also made with Pacifico Beer, click on the link.