Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chicken Girdles!

Being a fourth-generation native Texan, I LOVE fajitas! According to The Tex-Mex Cookbook, by Robb Walsh, it was Mama Ninfa Laurenzo of Houston, Texas, who originated the first commercial fajita in the United States in 1973. Mama Ninfa was born Maria Ninfa Rodriguez in 1924. She lived on a farm in the Rio Grande Valley, not far from where I am from. No doubt Mama Ninfa was familiar with Hispanic ranch hands marinating and grilling less desirable cuts of beef, such as the skirt steak. Butchers in the Rio Grande Valley called the skirt steak "fajita" from the Spanish word "faia," which means belt or girdle in Spanish. Over time as fajitas became all the craze, the term fajita began to mean any grilled meat served with flour tortillas, giving birth to "chicken fajitas."

I have tried a plethora of recipes for chicken fajitas over the years, even Mama Ninfa's. But the recipe that I always return to is Robb Walsh's from The Tex-Mex Cookbook. I like the simplicity and flavor better than more complicated recipes I've tried. I like my chicken fajitas with grilled red onion, red and yellow bell pepper strips, topped with pico de gallo, a generous dribble of Cholula hot sauce, and a dollop of sour cream. Delicious, or as my dad would say, "Hot Damn!" Robin's Tex-Mex Rice and Drunken Pintos make perfect accompaniments!

"Chicken Fajitas"

Serves 4, generously!

**Don't worry if you have leftovers. Make a "Grilled Chicken Fajita Pizza"!

1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
4, 7-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt, to taste
1 red onion, sliced into 1/4" strips, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper
1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1/4" strips, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into 1/4" strips, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper
8 warm flour tortillas (I always grill a few extra, just in case!)
Condiments of choice (e.g., pico de gallo, hot sauce, sour cream, avocado slices, guacamole, etc.)

Combine the onion, oregano, lemon juice, and olive oil in a blender. Puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a bowl (or plastic freezer bag) and turn the chicken breasts in the mixture until well coated. Cover and marinate for about 4 hours in the refrigerator.

Heat a gas or charcoal grill. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill over a hot fire, turning once, for 2 minutes each side. Move the chicken to a cooler part of the grill and cook, turning as needed, for 6 to 8 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and loosely cover with foil. 

At this point, grill the onion and peppers until charred and just beginning to soften. (I find using a grilling skillet or basket works very well, see Gadgets.) When done, remove to a platter or bowl. 

Smells amazing!

Next grill each tortilla until slightly charred on each side, and just beginning to puff up. (Up to 30 seconds each side, depending on how hot your grill is.) Wrap in foil or place in a tortilla basket to keep warm.

When they puff up they're done!

Once the onions, peppers, and tortillas are done, slice the chicken into long strips against the grain. Salt to taste. Serve with desired condiments and let everyone help themselves! 

Recipe adapted from Robb Walsh and combined with my techniques.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Celebrate Father's Day with Michael Symon's Grandma

Father's Day is almost here, and I don't know of one dad who when asked what he wants for Father's Day doesn't reply, "Nothing." I guess I can understand getting a gift that he probably doesn't want and probably pays for isn't that exciting. Unless your dad's a golfer, a sci-fi collector, or is really into ties, it makes celebrating them difficult. While dad doesn't want to pay for a trip to the Mediterranean, he would love a manly meal from the grill with some Greek flair. I've got the recipe for you - Michael Symon's "Yiayia's Smoked Pork Ribs!"

While I love my recipes for Memphis-Style Spare Ribs and Best Barbecue Ribs, these Greek-style ribs seem a little "lighter" and provide a new twist on classic barbecue. While Michael recommends cooking the ribs wrapped in foil, I think it's easier to cook them over a drip pan, rotating them occasionally. In addition, the combination of spices, herbs, and honey make these ribs truly memorable. I like to serve them with a Greek salad, loaded with tomatoes, olives, cucumber, and feta cheese. Yum! A wonderful starter (although not Greek) would be Bacon-Wrapped, Jalapeno and Cheese-Wrapped Shrimp. After all, you'll have the grill going anyway, and I guarantee any dad will flip for these spicy/cheesy shrimp!

Yiayia's Smoked Pork Ribs

Serves 4

For the Rub
1 tablespoon garlic salt
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons toasted and ground coriander seeds
Pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 racks spare-ribs, preferably St. Louis style cut, if possible (I cut them in half so they fit on my Weber.)
Juice of 1 lemon

For Barbecuing
3-4 handfuls applewood chips, soaked in water
1 aluminum roasting pan, to go under the ribs while on grill

For the Glaze
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1 teaspoon fresh thyme

For the Garnish
1 lemon, cut in half
Sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Drizzle of honey

The day BEFORE you plan on cooking the ribs:
Mix together the dry ingredients to make the rub. Squeeze the lemon juice all over the ribs and then coat all sides with the rub, making sure to distribute evenly. Cover the ribs and refrigerate overnight.

When you're ready to barbecue the ribs:
Whisk together the glaze ingredients, set aside. Prepare a charcoal grill for barbecuing over medium-low heat (300-350 degrees).

Place an aluminum drip pan half full of water in the center of the fire bed. Sprinkle some of the wood chips on the coals. Place the ribs on the grill rack over the drip pan.

Cover and grill and smoke the ribs, rotating them every 30 minutes or so (the ribs along the outside will cook faster, so it's good to rotate to the inside, etc.) and adding more wood chips, more coals, and more water to the drip pan as needed.

After the first hour, brush the glaze on top of the ribs. Continue to cover, grill, and smoke the ribs until they are tender and a toothpick can easily be inserted between the ribs, about 2 1/2-3 hours. 

Just before the ribs are done cooking, grill the lemon halves flesh-side down until nicely marked and slightly soft, 3-5 minutes.

When the ribs are done, let them rest on a cutting board, loosely covered with foil for 10 minutes. To serve, cut the ribs between the bones and garnish with the grilled lemon, sea salt, oregano, olive oil, and honey.

Recipe adapted from foodnetwork.