Monday, February 2, 2009

Day 2: Chicken Fajitas

I love to cook for people and I have loved Mexican food for as long as I can remember, really good, spicy Mexican food. I would die happy, as long as I drowned in a bucket of guacamole. One of my favorite things ever is the chicken flautas meal from Mi Ranchito in Kalamazoo, Michigan--the one on Westnedge, which is now closed, was much better than the one in Oshtemo. I am firmly of the opinion that almost any food is made better when it's wrapped in a warm tortilla and dribbled with pico de gallo.

One of the first really great meals that I ever made for other people was chicken fajitas. I used a recipe from a cookbook called The Well-Filled Tortilla. I liberated that cookbook from my mother's house when I went to college. The recipe could not be more simple. Put a boneless, skinless chicken breast between two pieces of heavy-duty plastic wrap (a heavy-duty freezer bag works really well) and pound it with a meat mallet until it's thin--like 1/4 inch or thinner. Unwrap it and sprinkle it on both sides with salt and chili powder--just regular old chili powder from the grocery store. Heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat for a few minutes, until the oil is shimmering, and then lay the chicken in the pan. Cook it on the first side for a couple of minutes, maybe three. Turn it over and cook it another couple of minutes. Pull it out of the pan and slice the chicken into thin slices, wrap it in a couple of warm flour tortillas with whatever toppings you happen to like, and eat it. I like mine with sour cream thinned with a tablespoon or so of lime juice stirred in, chopped cilantro, pico de gallo, and a little crumble of cheese.

You can make this for a huge crowd of people--just make more chicken and warm more tortillas and have lots of toppings to choose from; people will sit around making themselves fajitas all night. You can do the same basic thing with thinly sliced steak (bottom round works great, and is cheap), pork tenderloin (cut it into half-inch rounds and pound it), a mixture of portabello mushrooms, red onion and bell peppers (slice them before you cook them), or shrimp (don't slice them, just season them, saute them, and serve them). It's a simple way to cook for a crowd, and it's practically impossible to screw it up.

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