Carne Asada: a mojo-like marinade
Let me first say that marinating meat is magic. (See what I did there?) No, seriously. You take a thin cut of meat—like flank or skirt steak, a chicken breast, or a pork chop—and put it in a mixture of spices, aromatics, herbs, acid, and oil. As the meat sits in the marinade, the acid goes to work on the connective tissue to tenderize the meat, while the herbs and spices give it flavor. The oil comes to the party to help the meat brown, but also for flavor: some aromatics, herbs, and spices dissolve better in oil than in (water-based) vinegar.
The marinade I use for this carne asada is similar to Cuban mojo. It has orange and lime juice, plenty of garlic, cilantro, Mexican oregano, cumin, and jalapeño. In addition, I add a tablespoon of Asian fish sauce: completely not authentic, but great for adding umami AND salt without detectable fishy flavor.
I make my marinades early in the morning in a zip-top bag and let the magic sauce transform the meat in the refrigerator while I’m working. Then, near dinner time, I pull the meat out of the marinade (scraping off most of it with a silicone spatula)…and it’s a simple zzzhhhh-zzzzhhh in a cast iron skillet or on the grill. You can see that we prefer our carne asada on the rare side of medium-rare, which also lends itself to a lightning-fast cook time.
Meal prep: fajita veggies
I like to serve carne asada with fajita vegetables. The fantastic thing about this is that you can slice up the veggies the night before and store them in a refrigerated zip-top bag. I cook the veggies in the same skillet that I use for the carne asada while the meat rests. I don’t wipe out the pan beforehand because the flavor of the meat and marinade seasons the vegetables quite nicely. In fact, I like to reserve 2 or so tablespoons of the marinade to mix in right when the fajita vegetables are done cooking.
Carne asada: about the meat
My favorite cut of meat for carne asada is skirt steak, with flank steak running a close second. Skirt steaks are long and thin, and they absorb flavor from the marinade really well. Apart from that, the flavor of the meat itself is incredibly yummy. Something to keep in mind is the orientation of the muscle fibers, also known as the “grain” of the meat. Cutting “with the grain” means that you’re cutting along the length of the muscle fibers, which will give you non-delicious, stringy, tough meat. Slicing “across the grain” means that you are cutting thin cross-sections of the muscle fibers, which yields very noshable, tender, delicious meat.
Skirt steaks, because they are so long, are sometimes easier to deal with if you cut them into thirds (e.g., if your skillet isn’t big enough). In any case, I always cut the steak into sections before slicing it, because trying to slice a steak that’s a third larger than my knife would just be silly. For this, I cut with the grain to create the sections, and then across the grain after the steak has cooked and rested.
Serving the Carne Asada
My family loves their condiments: there’s always hot sauce, sour cream, cilantro, and cheese. So, I set out the sliced meat, veggies, warm tortillas, and the condiments buffet style for a DIY fajita bar. It’s always a hit with the kids. So there you have it: if you work ahead and do the meal prep in advance, this meal comes together in under 20 minutes!
A lightning-fast, Mexican-inspired marinated skirt steak and fajita vegetables. Meal prep by making the marinade and slicing the veggies the night before!
- 1/3 cup lime juice ~2 limes
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro with stems
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tbsp. Mexican oregano
- 1 tbsp. Asian fish sauce*
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 jalapeno thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 2- lb. skirt steak or flank steak
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 red bell pepper sliced
- 1 yellow bell pepper sliced
- 1 green bell pepper sliced
- 1 Vidalia onion sliced
- 2 tbsp. reserved marinade
- 1/4 tsp. salt or to taste
- 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- warm tortillas
- sour cream
- shredded cheese
- chopped cilantro
Mix all marinade ingredients in a zip-top bag. Reserve two tablespoons of the mixture for the fajita vegetables. Prep the steak by removing any membranes and patting dry with paper toweling. Add the meat to the marinade. Seal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Massage the marinade into the meat. Marinate, refrigerated, for at least 4 hours (can be marinated overnight). Turn the meat occasionally if you can.
Set a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tbsp. of vegetable oil. Remove the meat from the marinade, removing as much marinade as possible (I use a silicone spatula to scrape off any solid bits). When the oil begins to shimmer, add the meat to the pan. Brown well on each side, about 2-3 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove the steak to a cutting board and let rest while making the fajita vegetables.
Add 1 tbsp of oil to the skillet (do not wipe the skillet out). Add the fajita vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Toss with the reserved marinade and remove from the heat.
Cut the steak into manageable sections WITH the grain. Thinly slice each section ACROSS the grain. Cut slices into bite-size pieces.
Arrange the steak and vegetables on a platter and set out buffet style with warm tortillas and condiments.
*The fish sauce is optional: it adds umami AND salt, but you won't detect any fishy flavor in the final product. If you choose not to use fish sauce, simply increase the amount of salt from 1/4 to 1/2 tsp.
A sampling of Mexican-inspired recipes on Flipped-Out Food:
|Fajita Quesadillas: these ooey-gooey, melty, delicious quesadillas are the ideal way to use up your Carne Asada leftovers. You’ll have dinner done in under 20 minutes!|
|Red Enchiladas or Chilaquiles: these enchiladas are made with an authentic, homemade sauce and come out of the oven bubbly and delicious.|
|Enchilada Bowls with Sweet Potato Noodles: made with homemade red enchilada sauce, these delicious enchilada bowls are great for using up cooked meat. The sweet potato noodles are a healthy substitute for rice or tortillas.|
|Pork Salsa Verde: this delicious, tender pork is incredibly easy to make in the slow-cooker with homemade salsa verde. This recipe also includes an option for making New Mexican green chile stew.|
|Pico de Gallo: a fresh, spicy salsa that’s perfect for parties with|