I thought Chicken Fajitas were nothing but a sizzly showman at the Mexican restaurant: WAY overrated with their steamy smoky cast iron entrance. (Like, get over yourself already.) Then I tried making a recipe at home with my own marinade. Whoa! Tender juicy blackened chicken, partying in your tortilla with perfectly cooked peppers and onions. I didn't even like fajitas, and now I'm going to run away with them (we're never coming back)! I will show you just how to make them!
Marinate the chicken. Slice 1 and 1/2 pounds chicken thighs into long 1-inch wide strips.* Cut against the grain, meaning your knife should be perpendicular to the lines you see running in the raw chicken. You can use chicken breasts if you want! See notes for annoyingly long details. Sometimes I can't shut up guys. Add chicken to a medium bowl.
Add all the marinade ingredients: 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon liquid smoke, 2 tablespoons cumin, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, and 4 cloves of garlic (at least 1 tablespoon minced). Stir it into the chicken and make sure it's all well distributed. Let marinate for 15 minutes. (or up to 24 hours in the fridge!)
Prep the veggies. Slice the bell peppers into 1/4 inch slices. I like to cut the long strips in half, so they are more bite size. See photos. Set aside.Slice off the knobby ends of the onion. Place the flat side on the cutting board, and cut in half. Place the halved side down on the cutting board, then make 1/4 inch slices. Add to the onions to the peppers and set aside.
Sear the chicken. Heat a 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium high heat. (Or use the sturdiest large skillet you have.) Let the pan preheat for at least 2 minutes until is crazy hot. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and swirl to coat the pan. It should shimmer right away.
Use tongs to add chicken strips to the pan one at a time. Do your best to get as much of the marinade off the chicken as you can, let it drip off. Leave at least 1-2 inches of space between strips of chicken, they need room to sear. Be careful, the oil may splatter! Add as many as you can to the pan without crowding; you will have to do this in 2-3 batches.
Sear for about 2 minutes until the bottom is blackened.
Add 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and use the tongs to swirl it around in between the chicken. Use the tongs to flip each piece of chicken one by one, landing on the melted butter. Let sear on the second side for about 1-2 minutes, until a thermometer in your largest piece reads 155 degrees (the temp will continue to rise off-heat). Or just cut one in half to check that it's white and not pink.
Repeat with the remaining chicken strips. Hang on to that marinade! Set it aside.
Remove the chicken to a plate or cutting board, then tent with foil to keep warm. I actually usually stick it in my turned-off microwave.
Cook the peppers and onions. Add 2 more tablespoons cooking oil to the cast iron skillet and make sure your heat is still at medium high. Add the sliced peppers and onions all at once, and feel like a boss with all those veggies mounded so high. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, then add all the remaining chicken marinade right away. Stir up all the browned bits from cooking the chicken. Saute for about 2-3 minutes, until crisp-tender, or more. How long you cook the veggies is totally up to you. Keep in mind they will continue to cook a little even after you turn off the heat. Traditional fajitas are cooked only until the peppers and onions are still pretty inflexible, and quite colorful. I tend to like mine cooked a little past that. Wimp, much??
Add in the chicken. Once you have the veggies how you like them, remove from the heat. Take a minute to cut any larger pieces of chicken into more bite-size pieces. Add all the chicken and any resting liquid into the pan with the peppers.
Prep the tortillas. Warm the flour tortillas one by one in a clean skillet set over medium heat. Top each tortilla with a sprinkle of shredded cheese (Monterey Jack, Oaxaca, quesadillla, etc.) if you want the ultimate experience! Heat until the cheese melts, then gently fold in half and keep warm in a tortilla warmer (or on a plate covered with a tea towel)
Serve the chicken and peppers in a warm tortilla, topped with sour cream or Chipotle Mayo, a squeeze of lime juice, and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro. Jam it in your mouth as fast as you can! Repeat.
*Chicken: If you have thighs, cut them into 1-inch strips. If you are using chicken breasts, you can also cut into strips and follow the same instructions in the recipe.Cutlets or whole thigh cooking instructions: If searing strips sounds like a lot of work (I get you, it does mean more batches) then slice the breasts into cutlets (horizontally, so you have two thin flat breasts.) You can leave thighs whole, unless they are huge (cut them in half). Then follow this cook method:Sear on medium high heat for about 2 minutes, then turn the heat down to medium and cook another 2 minutes. Then turn the heat back up to medium high, add butter, and flip. Let sear for 2 minutes, then turn the heat to medium and keep cooking until no longer pink, or until the internal temperature reaches 155-160 degrees F. **Cheese: Technically there is no cheese in a traditional fajita, but you know, 'Merica. You can use any cheese you want to top your fajitas (or melt in your tortilla). Pepper jack adds a lil kick, Manchego or Monterey jack are also absolutely delicious. Double the recipe: You can easily double this recipe, just make sure to cook the chicken and the veggies in batches. If you don't, they'll steam instead of searing and they won't have the same awesome flavors and textures!