Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sundays with Sparky: Quick Chicken Fajitas

Sometimes, I over-complicate things...well, most times...well, probably all the time, but the point is that I realized that the ultimate purpose of this blog project - teaching Sparky to cook - was taking a back seat to me showing off while making a giant mess in the kitchen!  I realized that, despite our four years of cooking together, Sparky was only confident in making five-layer dip and scrambled eggs on his own.  Sparky's a sharp kid - obviously I needed to look to his teacher.

There are simple tricks every good cook knows and most self-professed "bad cooks" just haven't yet learned, and one of them is searing meat in a pan.  This is a dead-easy technique that works for most tender meats: chicken breast, pork loin or tenderloin, beef steaks, fish, turkey cutlets, even hamburgers and shrimp.  (In general, this quick-cook method doesn't work well with gristly meats like chuck roasts or stew meat; they're better off braised, though if you slice them against the grain and marinate them, it's possible.) It's a skill that allows you to get dinner on the table in minutes, and, as shown here, is often the first step in a one-pan meal.


1 lb boneless, skinless chicken tenders (a pre-cut breast meat portion)
1 yellow or orange bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 large yellow onion
Poultry seasoning or chili powder
Black pepper

Flour tortillas (or corn if you prefer)
Sour Cream

Buying your mise-en-place saves a lot of time:  I set Sparky up with seeded pepper strips, onions cut in half and then in "petals" and I simply tossed the chicken tenders with a bit of salt, pepper, poultry seasoning (if you like a little heat, use chili powder) and some olive oil.  If you don't want to chop onions and peppers, buy them prepared at your grocery's salad bar, and make sure to get boneless, skinless chicken.

004Sparky put our enameled cast-iron skillet on high heat and added a small slick of vegetable oil, and we waited five minutes for it to come up to temperature.

To test the heat, Sparky dropped a single droplet of water (be careful, it might splatter) and when it evaporated completely, he began adding the chicken tenders to the pan one at a time, leaving ample space in between each piece for air circulation.

010We allowed them to sit undisturbed for 3-5 minutes until we could see the bottom had caramelized a bit and the chicken was starting to change color near the pan.  Sparky carefully checked to see if they released easily from the pan, then flipped them over (the thickest were flipped 3 turns 1/3 of the way each time.)  They stayed on the second side for about 5-7 minutes, or until they were firm when poked with tongs.

013The chicken was kept warm in a low oven while Sparky added the onions and peppers to the pan along with a bit of salt.  We left the heat on high for a few minutes to brown the vegetables a bit, stirring occasionally, and then turned the heat to medium low for about 5-10 minutes until they softened.

We heated up some flour tortillas and then served our fajitas with salsa, cheese, and sour cream.  A delicious dinner that anyone can make, and that only takes a few minutes to put together!


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