Fajita flavor taken to the next level
Don’t you hate it when your taco falls apart? Just as you’re ready to take a juicy bite, fajita strips and onions land on your lap.
Fortunately, we’ve found a better way. We disassembled this dish and substituted a bed of cheesy, spicy grits for tortilla wraps. Our version of fajitas is easier to make — and even tastier than the original. Not to mention better looking than a lap full of grease.
Take that, gravity.
Recipe: Deconstructed Fajitas with Grits
You can use almost any kind of protein you like in fajitas. Beef is traditional, and that’s what we use in our recipe. But chicken, pork, and seafood also work well.
When using beef, the traditional cut of choice is skirt steak. But we prefer flank steak because it has great flavor and tends to be more readily available at supermarkets (and at a better price).
To make fajitas, you first cook the meat (you can either grill it or sear it on the stovetop as we do here). Then let the meat rest for a few minutes while you grill or sauté veggies to accompany it.
Traditionally, you serve the fajita meat and veggies in a flour tortilla shell, taco style, along with extras like salsa, grated cheese, and other goodies.
For this recipe, we ditch the tortillas and substitute Cheesy Grits with Jalapeños for extra flavor. Then we pile the fajita ingredients on top of the grits – ending up with an open-face fajita.
Prep time for this dish is about 15 minutes. Total active cooking time adds another 15 to 20 minutes.
This recipe serves 4 generously. Leftovers will keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
For the beef:
- ~1½ pounds flank steak (or skirt steak)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried cumin
- ~1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste; see Notes)
- an additional tablespoon (or two) of oil for searing the meat
- 3 bell peppers in a mix of colors (we like red, orange, and yellow)
- 1 large or 2 medium white onions (to taste)
- 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil (as needed)
- salt to taste (optional)
- 2 cups water
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste; see Notes)
- ½ cup quick-cooking (not instant) grits
- ½ cup grated cotija cheese (optional; or substitute another cheese of choice)
- 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers (or to taste; optional)
- salsa or pico de gallo of choice (see Notes)
- guacamole (very optional)
- grated cheese (we use cotija cheese)
- sour cream (very optional; we skip this if using grated cheese)
- chopped cilantro (a couple of tablespoons at least)
- diced or sliced jalapeño peppers (very optional)
- About 2 hours before you’re planning to cook the meat, make a marinade for it: Remove the meat from its package. Squeeze the limes (you’ll need about 2 tablespoons of juice). Place the lime juice in a small lidded container. Peel the garlic and mince it finely, then add it to the lime juice. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the cumin, and the salt to the lime juice. Cover the container and shake to combine the ingredients thoroughly. Massage the marinade into the surface of the meat, then place the meat on a plate (no need to cover). Refrigerate the meat until ready to use. While the meat is chilling, flip it once or twice and massage it again with the marinade.
- Meanwhile, wash and dry the bell peppers. Core and seed them, then cut the peppers into thin strips. Peel the onions and cut them into slices of about ¼ inch. (Refrigerate the chopped bell peppers and onions if you’re not planning to use them immediately.)
- About 20 minutes before you plan to serve the fajitas, take the meat out of the refrigerator (see Notes). Wipe the surface of the meat dry with paper towels. Place a heavy frying pan (cast iron is ideal) over medium-high stovetop heat (turn on the range vent and/or open windows; you’re going to create some smoke). Set out your chopped veggies. Start boiling water for the grits; prepare them using our recipe for Cheesy Grits with Jalapeño (or another recipe of your choice). Do note that you’ll be juggling preparation of the meat, grits, and veggies all more or less at the same time. Don’t forget to stir the grits every couple of minutes or so. And don’t forget to add grated cheese and diced jalapeños (if using) to the grits after 10 minutes (if you miss this step by a minute or so, no big deal).
- Once your frying pan is hot and the grits are simmering on the stovetop, add a tablespoon of oil to the frying pan. Immediately add the meat (you can salt it to taste first if you wish, although we think the marinade adds sufficient flavor). The meat will sizzle. Let it cook for about 45 seconds, then flip it and cook the second side for another 45 seconds. Continue cooking, flipping every 45 seconds or so, until the meat is done (about 4 minutes total; done is 120 to 130 degrees F, depending on how well-done you like your meat – see Notes). Once the meat is cooked, place it on a cutting board and let it rest.
- Add more oil to the frying pan if necessary, then add the sliced bell peppers and onions. Sauté over high heat for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the veggies are done to your liking. Salt to taste, if desired.
- By now, the grits should be done (if they finish cooking before the veggies, just remove them from the stovetop heat and set aside).
- Plate the dish: Start by placing a large dollop of cooked grits in the center of each serving plate. Add sautéd peppers and onions. Slice the meat thinly, then place several strips on top of each plate, over the veggies. Add salsa or pico de gallo (and guacamole, if using). Top with grated cheese (or sour cream, if using). Finish with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro and/or jalapeño dice or slices. Serve and enjoy.
- Flank (or skirt) steak is best when cooked to no more than medium (125 to 130 degrees F; it can be tough otherwise). As the steak rests after cooking, its internal temperature will rise. So remove it from the heat at about 120 degrees F for rare, 125 for medium-rare, or 130 for medium.
- Slice the cooked meat thinly and against the grain (this helps make it seem more tender). We like to use a bias cut – cutting on an angle of about 45 degrees.
- The lime juice in the marinade can partially “cook” the protein molecules on the outside surface of the steak if left in contact with them too long (making them a bit tough). So we prefer to marinate flank steak for no more than 2 to 3 hours (for skirt steak, no more than one hour).
- Instructions for preparing steak often direct cooks to add it to a hot pan, then turn it only once (after it’s cooked for a couple of minutes). We prefer to flip the meat repeatedly because it seems to cook a bit faster that way. Plus, you’ll develop a better sear on the surface. The difference isn’t huge, though, so use the method you’re most comfortable with.
- Alternatively, you can grill the steak outside if you wish.
- Cooking steak on the stovetop does create smoke. So make sure you ventilate properly if you don’t want to set off smoke alarms (ask us how we know this).
- You could also broil the meat in the oven if you wish, although we find that method to be a pain.
- Want to make a lighter dish? Just reduce the amount of meat and increase the amount of veggies.
- Onions and bell peppers are the standard veggies for fajitas. But you could probably add other veggies you like to the mix. At this time of the year, we’d suggest a bit of zucchini.
- We think ½ cup of dry grits when cooked makes enough for 4 servings. But if you’re really into grits, you may want to double the amount (we usually do).
- We like to mix cotija cheese into the grits and then sprinkle more over the top of the fajitas.
- Don’t have cotija on hand? You could substitute cheddar. Parmesan or feta cheese would also work, although of course they’re not traditional.
- You can use any kind of salsa you like for assembling this dish. We favor Salsa Verde with Roast Tomatillos (if you prefer, you can replace the jalapeños in this recipe with canned chipotle peppers). A tomato-based Homemade Salsa would also be good.
- We use kosher salt for cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using regular table salt, start with about half as much as we recommend. But always season to your taste, not ours.
“Mmm, classic Tex-Mex,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Lots of sizzle.”
“I have no beef with that comment,” I said.
“You showed some grit coming up with this dish,” said Mrs K R.
“Yup, fajitas are even better over grits,” I said. “Especially with jalapeño and cheese.”
“Cheesy is what we do,” said Mrs K R.
And who we are.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Cheesy Grits with Jalapeño (or not) Salsa and Picante Sauce
Salsa Verde with Roast Tomatillos
Deconstructed Fish Tacos with Grits
Tex-Mex Shredded-Beef Enchiladas
Shredded-Beef Soft Tacos
Slow-Cooker Mexican Shredded Chicken
Homemade Corn Tortillas
Or check out the index for more