Last Sunday I made Santa Maria barbecued tri-tip. By Tuesday I had only a scant half a pound of meat left. By itself it was not enough to use as a main dish, so I decided to stretch it with grilled peppers. Fajitas are seared peppers and can be made with any meat, something like a Mexican stir-fry.
Properly made, the peppers in a fajita are quickly pan-seared. If you have a large cast iron skillet and a gas stove this is easy to do. I have only a sauté pan and a glass topped electric stove. Being hungry, I dumped all of my peppers in at once and, instead of searing, they sautéed in their own juices. For this dish to be cooked correctly—with the tools that I have at my disposal—required more finessing than I gave it.
To get the proper scorching on the vegetables, I should have let the pan get as hot as it could before adding the vegetables in small batches. You then let them cook without stirring until one side is charred. The point here is not to completely cook the vegetables, but to get the correct char. Remove the first batch from the skillet and let the pan reheat before adding the second batch. When all of the vegetables are charred, return them to the pan with the meat, spices and sauce for a final sauté to combine them.
In making this dish I was using cooked tri-tip, but you can pan sear any meat—beef, chicken, or fish. It is best to sear and partly cook the meat before you start cooking the vegetables. The meat and vegetables will become fully cooked during the final sauté.
Karl’s Tri-tip Fajitas
Note: This is a meat-stretcher recipe. How many onions and peppers you use depends entirely on how many diners you need to feed.
Corn oil (or peanut oil), as needed
½ lb. cooked tri-tip, cut into 1½ x ¼ inch pieces
1 yellow onion, cut pole to pole into ¼ inch slices
1-2 Poblano peppers, seeded and cut into 1½ x ¼ inch pieces
1-2 Anaheim peppers, seeded and cut into 1½ x ¼ inch pieces
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1½ x ¼ inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1½ x ¼ inch pieces
1 Jalapeño pepper, seeded and cut into 1½ x ¼ inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. Ancho chili powder
½ tsp. oregano (preferably Mexican)
¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
¼ cup Mexican dark beer (or beef juices, if available)
1 Tbs. fresh lime juice
1. If you are starting with raw meat, pan-sear the beef in a tablespoon of oil on both sides. You want to use the highest heat you can manage with your stove, the hotter the better. Let the meat cool and then slice it across the grain into bite sized, 1½ x ¼ x ¼, inch pieces. Reserve the meat and any juices.
Tip: If you are starting with raw meat, it is a good idea not to cook the meat through at this time. You just want a good sear on the outside.
Note: I am starting with fully cooked barbecued tri-tip. When I cook this, I only want to have it in the pan long enough to warm it up to serving temperature. Cooking it longer will make it tough and chewy.
2. Prepare all of your vegetables.
Tip: Keep the onions separate from the peppers, but you may mix the peppers if you wish.
3. Pan-sear the onions.
Tip: Put one tablespoon of oil in the pan and heat it to shimmering. Add the onions, but do not stir them. Cook for 3-4 minutes on one side, until they are getting well charred. Remove the onions to a bowl and reserve.
4. Pan-sear the peppers, in small batches, adding oil as necessary. Remember to let the pan reheat before adding the next batch. Reserve the half cooked peppers to the bowl.
Tip: You want the peppers in a single layer, but you do not want to over-crowd the pan. Too many peppers at once and they will release their moisture and sauté rather than sear.
Note: This was the mistake I made. The results are still tasty, but they end up being “sautéed peppers,” not “fajitas.”
5. Without cleaning the pan, add the garlic and spices and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
6. Return the onion, peppers and meat to the pan.
7. Add the beer and lime juice and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes, tossing to coat and mix the ingredients.
Tip: When I sliced my tri-tip this Sunday a lot of meat juices were released. I was left with a quarter cup of these juices. I used this instead of beer for my dish, but this ingredient would not be available for most cooks. If you have a jar of “au jus” you could substitute this for the beer.
8. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with tortillas, salsa fresco, guacamole, and cilantro on the side.