Have you ever heard of this? It’s huge in Mexico, the Southwest, and Texas (BTW, is Texas the Southwest or the South? Inquiring minds want to know).
Anyhoo, arrachera is basically a skirt or hanger steak (the belly muscle on beef) that has been marinated and cut into strips to make fajitas and tacos.
It may have originated in the borderlands between Mexico and south Texas during cattle drives in the 1930s.
Historically, the marinade has been made with garlic, chilies, onions, and various citrus juices. The meat is normally grilled directly on a bed of hot coals with no grate.
This variation is somewhat true to the original, except it has been adapted for charcoal and gas grill use to better facilitate tailgating and game day feeds at the house.
This recipe was adapted from version as posted on Food.com.
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step One – Prep Your Ingredients
Gather all of your ingredients, minus the steak itself. Quarter your onions.
Step Two – Making the Marinade
Add all of the ingredients to a high-speed blender and emulsify. Note that I used grapeseed oil as it was what I had on hand. The original recipe called for olive oil. Any vegetable-based oil should work.
I included a bit of powdered beef bouillon. Why? One of the main components is MSG.
Now, MSG has a bad rap, but a little on occasion is not a bad thing. And it does wonders to enhance flavor. Meat actually develops its own natural MSG as it ages.
If you want a natural source for MSG, then you can substitute a bit of laver (dried seaweed).
I’m pretty sure that Elon Musk is using a step down from the motor in the Vitamix for the Tesla Roadster (I jest, but not by much).
For a single batch, any blender will work.
You’ll see in the photos that I’m using whole limes whereas the original recipe called for lime juice. I thought to myself, “Self, we paid for organic limes… why not use the whole thing? Including the zest.”
Yeah, not a good idea. The lime peel left a slightly bitter taste in the prepared meat. It was unnoticeable when the completed fajita taco was put together with all of the fixings, but you could definitely taste the pith when sampling the meat by itself.
Note to Self: “Self, don’t try to improvise or improve recipes while under a deadline.”
Step Three – Marinate the Meat
Layer in the meat and the marinade in either large glass containers or a gallon-sized zip-top bag.
For this kind of thing, I much prefer glass-lock type as it allows me to retrieve the meat without getting the marinade everywhere. Plus, the glass doesn’t stain, and there is no risk of plastic leaching chemicals into the food.
Stick the container in the refrigerator and allow it to soak up the marinade goodness for at least 12 hours.
Step Four – Grilling
The traditional way to prepare arrachera is directly on top of blazing hot coals. Yeah, well, that doesn’t work too well in a stadium parking lot, or many other places. I’m pretty sure this might actually lead to a fine, arrest, and/or a nice repair bill for some asphalt or concrete work.
Anyway, I’m digressing, rambling, and otherwise not getting to the point… Ok, here we go:
I’m using a gas grill, but feel free to use a charcoal grill for this. If you’re on gas, turn the burners on high and close the lid to let the heat build up to about 450-500°F. You’ll want a hot grill to get a good sear.
You have the option of removing the bulk of the stuck-on marinade with a spatula or paper towel. I chose to leave the excess marinade on my steak, so that the sugar would caramelize.
The original recipe that I based mine on calls for 2 minutes of grilling on each side over coals. I went significantly longer for several reasons:
First, a gas grill is not going to get as hot – especially a portable model. Secondly, I don’t go for rare or even medium rare anymore.
I once gave myself food poisoning from pan-searing a ribeye. If you’ve had food poisoning before, you’ll know what I mean when I say, “you wonder when you’ll die and wish that you could.”
Dante had it wrong. There aren’t nine circles of hell – there are ten, with the tenth being food poisoning.
Anyhow, I’m off on another tangent.
Focus, Mike, focus!
So I let my steaks sear for 3 1/2 minutes. I then flipped them over and closed the lid on the grill to let it cook on high for an additional six minutes.
The steaks came out about medium to medium rare, with some nice pink in the center but no blood.
Remove from the grill and let the steak rest on a cutting board for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice across the grain into thin strips.
Step Five – Roast Some Veggies (Optional)
While your steak is resting, you can prepare any number of vegetables for roasting over the grill.
I used bell pepper, onions, and jalapenos. Various types of summer squash and even tomatillos would work great as well (and maybe you’ll even want to whip up a batch of these tomatillo mojitos while you’re at it).
Slice your veggies into thin strips, wrap several times in aluminum foil, and place on the grill with the lid shut for about 15 minutes on low heat.
Remove and let rest for about five minutes.
Step Six – Add on the Goodies
Now for the fun stuff. It’s time to make your fajita or taco. Use a flour or corn tortilla (I prefer flour, but corn is the more traditional choice) and add your meat and veggies, then layer on your toppings of choice.
Another great suggestion: if you are tailgating, consider pre-making your fajita wraps with the tortilla, veggies, and meat, and wrapping them in aluminum foil to keep warm.
Place them on a very low temp spot on your grill (like in the rack) until they are ready to be served. Add any additional goodies just prior to eating.
This is also a great “make ahead” recipe. I made a big batch so that I could mix the meat and veggies together and used a vacuum sealer to prepare some packets for freezing.
Have a stressful day? Just dig out a bag, dump it in a microwave safe bowl, and nuke it. Wa la! Dinner is served. And a heck of lot tastier than those frozen, pre made, one-pan dinners in a bag for “two” from the supermarket.
What about you? Do you have any tips for creating great fajitas? Does this sound like a good tailgating recipe? Let us know in the comments below!
And if you want another delicious fajita experience, make sure to cook up our equally sizzlin’ shrimp fajitas sometime.
Photos by Mike Quinn, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
About Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn spent 20 years in the US Army and traveled extensively all over the world. As part of his military service, Mike sampled coffee and tea from all virtually every geographic region, from the beans from the plantation of an El Salvadorian Army Colonel to "Chi" in Iraq to Turkish Coffee in the Turkish Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He spent nearly a decade in the Republic of Korea where he was exposed to all forms of traditional teas. Mike formerly owned and operated Cup And Brew, an online espresso and coffee equipment retail operation.