Saturday, October 11, 2008
Best Fajita Award
Well there's a ... well that's really a tacos al carbon. Many people haven't a clue what real fajitas are since it became a mainstream Tex-Mex food. It's just meat on a warm tortilla, nothing more, and for Pete's sake no onions, pico de gallo, cheese, and all that trash. The best I've ever had were from the Falcon Brothers up in Austin. It is pure heaven.
Real skirt steak is incredibly tough and comes in four parts on the cow: the outer skirts from the diaphram fore quarters, and two skirts from the outer flank of the hind quarters. The Falcon Brothers only use the front skirts (more taste, less tough). These are about 18 inches long and about an inch thick. The skirt is carefully trimmed and butterflied in half so you get 1/2-inch skirts.
What Sonny "the Fajita King" Falcon does it is to pound the steaks but no marinade is used - horrors! That tenderized meat using the "poking machine" is worthless garbage. Marinating and poking the meat usually ruins the taste and makes them like a wet sponge. Only a hot fire should be used, about 6-8 minutes per skirt steak, and repeatedly turned so it does not get any grill marks. No seasoning or anything.
These are allowed to cool for a minute and cut extremely thin with a razor-sharp knife, against the grain and at a slightly slant. It is served with a warmed flour tortilla and all you get is some salt and some fiery hot sauce. This style is fairly close to the true vaquero dish of the 1930s called "arracheras."
Meanwhile, another restaurant in 1969 owned by Otilio Garza opened a shop in Pharr Texas and began serving what we know today as fajitas with all the fixings, sometimes even sour cream and (yipes) corn. An outfit later known as Ninfa's used the same approach (Houston, Ninfa Rodriguez), although careful enough to call them "tacos al carbon" because that's the real name. At least Ninfa's was honest about it.
Nowadays, little being sold in the restaurants is really skirt steak, and many even have the audacity to sell chicken and shrimp as "fajitas." Flank and shoulder and other cuts are often sold as beef skirt. I'm going with the Falcon Brothers approach - but if you like the fixings like my wife does, well enjoy!
Oh and for the vegetarians who find all this meaty talk a little repulsive, I'm working on a new guacamole recipe. Nicaraguan style, with radishes and mint ... ooooh.