A fajita in Tex-Mex cuisine is any grilled meat usually served as a taco on a flour or corn tortilla. The dish is derived from the Spanish word "fajita," meaning a little strip or a little belt. When the dish first appeared on menus in the 1970s, it had referred initially referred to strips of meat cut from the beef skirt.
In the 1980s, the dish began to gain wide appeal and started to become a staple in Tex-Mex restaurants. Now, a fajita can refer to any strips of meat or vegetables, grilled or stir-fried with onions and peppers. Popular selections include chicken, pork, shrimp, lamb, salmon, and all other cuts of beef, as well as vegetables instead of meat.
How to Slice Fajita Meat
The best way to get a tender slice of meat is to cut perpendicular to the grain of the meat. Sometimes the grain is not straight across the whole piece of meat and can change direction several times.
Identify the Grain
Not to be confused with whole grains like barley, wheat, or oats, the grain of the meat refers to the direction that the muscle fibers are aligned on a piece of meat. The grain of the meat is easier to identify in certain cuts of meat with more sinew—like flank, hanger, and skirt steak—than it is in lean cuts, like tenderloin.
How to Do It
Look carefully at the top of the meat. You should be able to see some of the grain (looks like very tiny lines) running across it. Get a very sharp knife, slice the meat perpendicular, or at a 90-degree angle to the grain. So it would be like slicing through lines, rather than slicing with the lines.
Why It Works
It is not just the cut of meat that determines how tender the meat ends up being, it is also how you cut the meat.
The thin strings of individual muscle sinews are tough material. By cutting through it, rather than cutting with it, you break it down before it goes into your mouth. This makes it easier to chew since a lot of the hard work of breaking up the muscle fibers is done for you.
How to Serve Fajitas
Fajitas meats are usually marinated, cut into strips and sauteed with onions, peppers, and seasoning. Fajitas are usually served sizzling or fresh off the heat with warm tortillas and a series of condiments for you to build your own taco or burrito. Popular condiments are shredded lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, refried beans, diced tomatoes, and rice.
History of Fajitas
The first time the word appears in the Oxford English Dictionary is in 1971, which was defined as:
A grilled strip of marinated steak. A dish originating in Mexico or the southern United States, consisting of strips of such meat served with a variety of garnishes or sauces in a soft flour tortilla. Later, more generally, any dish served in this manner.
It is believed that fajitas referring to a preparation of food may have dated back to the 1930s in the ranch lands of south and west Texas. During cattle roundups, cows were butchered regularly to feed the hands. Throwaway items such as the hide, the head, the entrails, and meat trimmings such as the skirt were given to the Mexican cowboys as part of their pay.