Ross: The only thing weird would be if someone didn’t like Mexican food, because I’m making fajitas!
Joey: I do like fajitas.
Friends, The One Where Ross Is Fine
This week I didn’t really know what I wanted to cook. I figured I was due for something with chicken, but I wanted to put off chicken parmesan since I made an Italian meal fairly recently. Eventually, I landed on fajitas. My memories of fajitas stem from experiences at a restaurant, long since closed, called Fresnos in my pre-vegetarian days. Waiters would walk to the tables with sizzling skillets of fajita filling, with a cloud of smoke following behind them. When you left Fresnos, you smelled like fajitas.
I used a recipe from my mom’s recipe binder; it was handwritten but not something she invented herself. I have no idea where it originally comes from, so my apologies to whomever is not receiving credit for their recipe. In all fairness, it is a pretty standard chicken fajita recipe. For the vegetarian version, I just followed the same recipe and substituted portobello mushrooms in place of chicken.
As I just mentioned, this recipe was not anything fancy or intricate and should have been a breeze to follow. But I made a lot of mistakes this week—I had issues every step of the way, grocery shopping, cooking, photographing—it was a careless cooking experience on my part.
Before I began doing any real cooking, I wanted to get all of the tedious work out of the way so I wouldn’t be scrambling later on. I started with the peppers. The recipe only called for one red, green, or yellow pepper (or two, as I doubled the recipe so I had enough for a chicken and mushroom version). But when I went to the grocery store, red, orange, and yellow peppers were on sale for three for five dollars, and I couldn’t pass that up. I also bought a green pepper because I was feeling festive.
To end up with sliced peppers, I first cut the top off of the red pepper. Then, I pulled out the center chunk of seeds and “ribs.” (Side note: this step would be extra important if I was working with jalapeño peppers because those are the spiciest parts.) I cut the pepper in half and cut the rest of the ribs off. Finally, I sliced the pepper lengthwise because I thought it would give me more uniform slices.
Now imagine that process again but with a yellow, green, and orange pepper.
I put the peppers aside and began on the onions (which I forgot to include in the group picture of the ingredients). Unlike dicing an onion, slicing an onion requires far less steps. I cut the onion in half, through the roots, and cut horizontally until I had a pile of sliced onion.
After the onion, I minced the garlic; it was a pretty standard mincing experience as has been documented in previous recipes.
Next, I measured out the necessary spices (cumin, dried oregano, salt, and pepper—salt and pepper also didn’t make it into the group photo, but they should really be implied even if they aren’t pictured; every recipe basically needs salt and pepper for seasoning) and the lime juice.
To extract the lime juice, I used a reamer; it’s a lot easier than just squeezing with my hand.
I only had one pan that was big enough to cook everything so I made the mushroom fajita filling first (because I was more confident in my mushroom cooking abilities and was scared to make the chicken), and then I washed the pan out and repeated the process with the chicken. The portobello mushrooms were a pain from the get-go. I had to go grocery shopping twice because the first time it was really late at night, and there were no portobello mushrooms left. But the first shopping excursion is when I found the sale peppers so it wasn’t a total bust. To get the mushrooms ready for cooking, I had to clean them. I began by wiping the tops down with a damp paper towel. Then, I flipped them over, tore out the stem, and used a spoon to scrape out the “gills.” It was a delicate and messy process, but I did it and eventually had, relatively, clean mushrooms. I sliced the mushrooms into strips, and got my pan ready.
Into the pan went some oil and the spice mixture. Once that had heated up, I threw the mushrooms in. The mushrooms quickly absorbed all of the liquid in the pan, and, to prevent them from sticking, I poured a bunch more oil into the pan. It did prevent them from sticking, but I also ended up with a lot of excess oil in my fajita.
After the mushrooms had sautéed for four minutes (this is what the recipe called for for chicken, and a quick internet search suggested portobello mushrooms cook in approximately that same amount of time), I added the peppers, onion, and lime juice. The recipe called for another four minutes of sautéing, but I was worried that the vegetables wouldn’t be properly cooked because I had used extra pepper, and the pan was so full.
As I was deciding whether to obey the timer and remove the pan from the stove or let it cook a bit longer to ensure that the peppers and onions were done, I realized I forgot to add the garlic when the oil and spices went into the pan. I added the garlic and let everything cook for another minute. Then, I poured the mushroom mixture into a bowl, washed out the pan, and started preparing the chicken.
I used chicken cutlets for this recipe, so they needed to be cut into smaller strips. I’ve heard that a trick for cutting chicken is to put it in the freezer for a bit first, but I didn’t remember that trick until I was struggling to cut through the slimy, gelatinous cutlets. Eventually, I succeeded in slicing all of the chicken. From this point on, I took the exact same steps as I did with the mushroom mixture (with the exception of adding the garlic at the proper time).
When I cooked the mushrooms, I just mixed everything around and trusted them to cook. But with the chicken, I used tongs to make sure all of the pink parts came into contact with the surface of the pan so I didn’t have any raw chicken. After everything had cooked for the instructed amount of time, I removed the pan from the stove and set the chicken mixture aside.
From this point on it was smooth sailing (just kidding, all of my tortillas got stuck together and tore. I had to layer one on top of another to keep everything from falling out, and it still made a huge mess). All the fajitas needed was a little sour cream—salsa was also an option—and a heap of mushroom or chicken filling, and they were ready to eat! Everyone enjoyed the fajitas, no one complained of undercooked or dry chicken, and the portobello mushrooms were a nice addition (better than just having a pepper and onion fajita which I guess is still technically a fajita). Success!