Smart BY PAM ANDERSON PfieWOMeNaL Fajilas Whether you're celebrating Cinco de Mayo or eating dinner on the fly, this Southwestern classic fills the bill. R EGAKDLESS OF OUR HERITAGE, Americans enjoy helping others observe their ethnic holidays. As faithfully as any O'Shea, I cook corned beef and cabbage eveiy St. Patrick's Day. And as proudly as any Juai-ez, I toast Mexico's defeat of the invading French each Cinco de Mayo. I'm sening f^itas this May 5, now that I've perfected the recipe. After lots of testing, I've learned to choose the right cut eaooi wtn: wriiMi Jr. ampmi of beef (chicken vi'orks, too). The details you need to know^: • Use skirt steak. It is one of the richest, beefiest, most reasonably priced, quickest-cooking steaks. Your butcher can special-order it, if it's not a cut he or she normally stocks. Flank steak, sirloin and other cuts I tried pale by comparison. The name "fajita" derives from the shape of the skirt steak, vs^hich resembles a belt or band (faja in Spanish). It's long (18 to 28 inches), narrow and thin. Cut the meat into four manageable pieces to fit it into youi- skiUet. If you can't find sMrt steak or don't eat red meat, boneless chicken breasts can easily be substituted. The cooking times should be similai-. If you buy breasts with the tenderloins still attached, i-emove the tenderloins and saute alongside the breasts. Lightly pound the chicken to an even thickness to ensure even cooking. • Apply seasonings directly on the meat. Rub the steak fii-st with a little oil, so the spices adhere better, then with salt, pepper and cumin. This results in a better flavor than soaking in a mai-inade. >• Cook the steak over high heat and in two batches. A hot skillet browns the steak and activates the cumin, resulting in great flavor. Don't crowd the pan or the meat will steam instead of sear. • Flavor with "marinade" after cooking. After trying scores of maiinades and marinating times, I found that a simple mix of lime juice and minced garhc drizzled over the hot steak acts as an instant "mai'inade," which, in combination with the steak juices, makes a very satisfying sauce. As the steak stands before slicing, its heat softens and tames the raw garlic. • Saut6 the peppers and onions in the same pan. While the steak rests in a warm oven, saut6 the vegetables in the empty skillet. Not only do you save an extra pan, but the vegetables pick up the flavor of the meat and spices. 10 USA WEEKEND-April 27-29,2001 Contributing Editor FAU ANDERSON is the author of How to Cook Without a Book (BROADWAY, S25)a?!d The Perfect Recipe ( HOUOHION MIFFUN,$27).
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