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Celebrate Cinco de Mayo Tyler Florence-style…with his Ultimate Beef Fajitas

Napolean III of France

      Ah Cinco de Mayo, a chance for Americans to celebrate their neighbor to the south, Mexico.  And this year, given all the campaign rhetoric, those of us who love that country, really should go out of our way to celebrate this 5th of May.  Of course, Cinco de Mayo is overwhelmingly an American celebration.  Many Americans believe the Festa is to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day.  That would be Dieciséis de Septiembre which likely would never have made onto an American calendar simply because it’s much more difficult to pronounce.             
No, Cinco de Mayo does celebrate a Mexican-only event.  Mexico had fought two wars, one against the Americans (Remember the Alamo!) and the other a civil that had almost bankrupted the country.  Its President then suspended  Mexico’s foreign debt payments for two years.  France, Britain and Spain were outraged and sent naval support to Veracruz to demand payment.  The British and the Spanish negotiated a payment schedule and sailed home. The French however remained. Napoleon III imagined a Latin Empire that would favor the French.  He called it the Second Mexican Empire. Despite being overwhelmingly

The Second Battle of Puebla, May 5th 1863

outnumbered, 2000 Mexicans fought off the 6000 French troops at the Battle of Puebla, crushing the French on May 5th 1862.  There was much jubilation in Washington.  President Lincoln had feared that the French would take advantage of the Civil War to meet its goals.  So Lincoln may have celebrated the first Cinco de Mayo that very year.  Now all of this is a very long way to get to today’s Cinco de Mayo celebratory post:  Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Beef Fajitas.  I can think of no better way to celebrate than with this American classic. Yes, American. 


Los Vaqueros, First Fajita Makers

The Fajita didn’t even exist until the 1930s and it never existed in Mexico at all. The closest thing to a Fajita in Mexico is an Arrachera. A fajita is a Tex Mex invention.  In the ranch lands of South and West Texas, Mexican cowboys, “Vaqueros”, on cattle roundups would regularly butcher cows.  As part of their pay, they got to take home the hides, the heads, the entrails and meat trimmings like skirt steak. It is from the skirt steak that the Fajita is made.  For years no one but the Vaqueros and their families even knew of the existence of this wonderfully flavorful cut of meat and the way it was prepared. Somehow they made their way onto high end menus, including that of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin.  But once diners got a hold of these little strips of meat marinated in an adobo sauce for spice and flavor and served with traditional Mexican Guacamole, Shredded Cheese (Try Manchego), Salsa and Crema Agria (Sour Cream), there was no end to the Fajita’s popularity even when Taco Tuesday took hold.                      

You may have noticed my fondness for virtually everything Chef Tyler Florence does.  The Chef’s “Tyler Florence’s Ultimate” is practically a bible of great things to eat. So when I wanted to cook Beef Fajitas (they also come in Pork, Chicken and shrimp), Tyler seemed like a great place to start.  And it was.  Tyler’s take on the dish steeps the skirt steak in a orange and lime juices to which he adds rich Brown chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, cumin, and cilantro. It’s the most time consuming part of the whole recipe because Chef Florence recommends marinating the beef for at least two hours. He grills some red pepper and onion, gets his condiments ready and after all of about 20 minutes he puts the perfectly spiced meat on the table surrounded by its accompaniments.             

The Essential Accompaniments

Tyler goes the extra mile by making his own Guacamole. I’ve included his récipe here.  He does suggest store-bought salsa, I’m happy to say.  I took a couple of shortcuts, which you may want to consider.   I bought Guacamole, Salsa and a bag of frozen roasted pepper and onion strips all at Trader Joe’s.  The first two were phenomenal.  The Guacamole is TJ’s  Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole. Made with Greek yogurt, this a great guac with bits of tomato, red onion, and jalapenos in a creamy blend of avocado. TJ’s salsa selection gives away its California roots by featuring every possible level of heat and chunkiness. The choice is completely up to you.  The package of Peppers and Onions was perfectly and quite honestly surprisingly acceptable.  I do feel that given the simplicity of cooking pepper and onion strips,  unless I was completely pressed for time, I’d cook my own next time.  And here is the recipe:



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