~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita Seasoning ~
Fajitas (fa-hee-tahs) were originally named "tacos al carbon" and were served ready-to-eat-with-the-hands by wrapping strips of unpretentious and cheap skirt steak, cooked directly over a campfire or a grill, in a flour or corn tortilla. "Faja" the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", with "ita" added to the end of it, means "a little strip, band, sash or belt". The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's. Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak). Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to everyone except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.
Fajitas made their first commercial debut in September 1969 when Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager opened a taco concession in rural Kyle. The same year, Otilia Garza began selling them in her Round-Up Restaurant in Pharr, and, she presented hers on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas, condiments and cheese to the side -- for eating taco-style. In 1973, Ninfa Rodrigues Laurenzo opened Nifa's Restaurant in Houston and sold wrapped "tacos al carbon" called "tacos al la Nifa".
Thanks to folks like Sonny, Otilia and Nifa, fajitas did gain in popularity, slowly spreading via rodeos, fairs and festivals into the surrounding Southwestern states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, but, national attention didn't come to the fajita until 1982. George Weidmann, a very creative chef at the fancy-schmancy Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, recognized the potential for putting a home-grown Tex-Mex dish on his menu. He put the panache into his presentation too, by serving them on sizzling, attention-grabbing cast-iron skillets. Thanks to George, this now trendy dish was put on Hyatt Regency menus almost everywhere, and, that is when and how I caught fajita-fever (in their Century Plaza resturant in Los Angeles).
By 1990, fajitas were on the menu of every wanna-be Texican restaurant from sea to shining sea. I know because I was raising three boys and they always wanted to go Happy Valley's only Tex-Mex eatery at the time, Chi-Chi's (which specialized in overpriced margaritas and marginal food). In 2003, the chain filed for bankrupcy and closed after being hit with the largest hepatitis A breakout in U.S. history, which was traced to green onions at the Beaver Valley Mall restaurant in Monaca, PA. Then, things got worse. Jack-in-the-Box and Taco Bell turned a once delicious meal and fun dining experience into an alien form of cardboard tacos and calorie-laden glop!
Meet my kid-friendly, homemade fajita seasoning blend!
After having eaten real-deal fajitas on several occasions, once in Los Angeles (mentioned above), once in Tempe, AZ, and twice Texas, it was obvious they are not hard to make -- and, they are not just associated with skirt steak anymore. They can and are commonly made with chicken, pork or shrimp too, and, I like them all. Depending on the cooking method (which varies) the secret is in the marinade and/or seasoning. After experiencing real-deal fajitas, what I found out in a hurry was: I dislike those 1-ounce, salt-laden store-bought seasoning packets -- I refuse to use them even for convenience (for goodness sake, I made this 4-ounce/16 tablespoon container in less than 5 minutes). Here's my all-purpose fajita seasoning blend:
4 tablespoons Santa Fe Seasons Six Seasonings*
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
5 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons sea salt
* Note: Available online at http://www.applecanyongourmet.com/ (Albuquerque, New Mexico). Spice blends in my fajita seasoning? You betcha. The chile blend is a melange of pure, dried and ground chiles, along with New Mexico's famous red chiles and contains no salt. Six Seasonings is a melange of pure and dried herbs, all favorites of Sante Fe, NM. It would not be cost efficient for me or you to order all of these pure and unadulterated ingredients separately and grind them at home. For authentic flavor, I highly recommend you give these products a try!
For those of you who don't know, when a product says "chile powder or chile blend", spelled with an "e" at the end, that denotes pure, powdered chiles. When a product says "chili powder or chili blend, with an "i" at the end, that is an Americanized product containing other additives.
For more Tex-Mex favorites, click on the Related Article links below!
Special Equipment List: measuring spoons; 1-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)