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Tacos de Arrachera y Pollo al Carbón con Cebollitas Asadas y Nopales (Grilled Skirt Steak & Chicken Tacos w/ Knob Onions & Cactus)

22 comments /
Grilling season is upon us!  Although I have to admit, I like to fire up the grill a couple of times in the winter, as well.  There's something special about standing in the circle of heat and smelling charcoal while seeing a foot of snow on the ground and seeing flakes flying through the air.  But.  Now's the time to head outside in tank tops and flip-flops.  Hair pulled back.  Sun on your shoulders.  Beer in one hand, tongs in the other.  Kids in swimsuits leaving a trail of water from the pool or the hose.  That glorious smell of meat juices mingling with charcoal and maybe a little mesquite.  Or maybe the earthy smell of veggies charring up to golden perfection.
In our house, the image that seeing the grill pulled from the garage conjures up most is "chewy steak".  The kids literally clamor for it.  It's a daily request.  Can we have chewy steak for dinner tonight!?  Or perhaps... You know what sounds good?  Chewy steak!  Now maybe that doesn't sound very good to you.

I know most people want a tender steak.  A buttery steak.  A medium, pink beauty they can sink their teeth into.  And believe me, I'm  no different.  HOWEVER.  Chewy steak is a tradition in our house.  Chewy steak being Arrachera.  Or skirt steak.  Skirt steak is that crazy long piece of steak cut from the cow's diaphragm.  It's sort of "stringy", which is where "chewy" comes in.  Yes, the kids have always called it chewy steak, and it's just stuck over the years.
It needs to be cut against the grain to be truly enjoyed. OR it needs to be "run through the machine".  A jaccard machine...the type that uses sharp blades to punch holes all the way through the steak in small intervals.  I only ever buy my arrachera from the butcher inside of one of our local Mexican mercados.  And when you request arrachera in any amount, they first question they ask is "through the machine?"  Say yes!

Running it through "the machine" gives you long (we're talking a few feet), thin portions of meat that hold marinade (which you'll need for flavor) extremely well.  It's also easy just to rip it apart into smaller "steaks".

The marinade that I usually use that everybody...seriously, everybody who's ever tasted it...loves is simply freshly squeezed lime juice, pressed garlic cloves, and a fair amount of salt.  I stick the meat in a baggie and smoosh everything all around.  It sits for about a half an hour or so.  The flavor is INSANE.  I've been making it like this for years.  But that said, I decided to give a different marinade a try.  One with loads of roasted garlic and hints of warming spices.  And it was super tasty!  I recommend giving it a try.  And we will probably switch it up  from time to time.  But my good ol' standby won out in the minds of those used to it.

Grilled Skirt Steak & Chicken Tacos w/ Knob Onions & Cactus {Tacos de Arrachera y Pollo al Carbón con Cebollitas Asadas y Nopales}

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 6 hours (includes marinating)
Cook Time: 20-30 minutes
Keywords: grill entree beef chicken onions cactus July 4th Mexican summer spring fall

Ingredients (serves 8)
    for the marinade:
    • 2 heads garlic, unpeeled & broked in individual cloves
    • ½ c. olive oil
    • ¾ c. apple cider vinegar
    • 1 tsp. (generous) ground black pepper
    • 1 tsp. (generous) ground cinnamon
    • 2 big pinches ground cloves
    • 2 tsp. (generous) dried Mexican oregano
    • 1½ tsp. salt (or to taste)
    everything else:
    • 2 lbs. arrachera (skirt steak, ask butcher to run through jaccarder machine)
    • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    • 3-6 medium nopales (cactus paddles)
    • few bunches knob onions
    • olive oil
    • salt
    • pepper
    to serve:
    • tortillas
    • salsa
    • avocado
    • lime wedges
    Instructions
    to make the marinade:
    Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Set unpeeled garlic cloves on skillet, turning occasionally, until softened and blackened in spots, ~12-15 minutes. Cool until able to handle, then peel and place in the jar of a blender. Add oil, vinegar, spices, herbs, and salt. Blend to a smooth puree.

    Place arrachera in one gallon-sized ziploc baggie. Place chicken breasts in another. Pour half the marinade in one bag and half in the other. Zip to seal. Squish the meat and the marinade around so that the marinade covers everything. Refrigerate for 6 hours.

    preparing everything else and finishing up:
    Clean the cactus by trimming off ~¼" all the way around each paddle. Hold the base of the paddle in one hand (use a towel, gloves, or tongs) and your knife blade in the other, scraping off all of the spiny nodes from both sides. Rinse it off well when you're done to make sure that you removed them all.

    Pour some olive oil over the cleaned cactus paddles and the knob onions with some olive oil and rub in. Season with some salt and pepper. Set aside.

    Prepare your grill. Have all of your food by the grill and ready to go. Once the coals are ready (or gas, if that's what you are using) you can start cooking everything.
    Start by grilling the cactus paddles and knob onions. Cactus will take ~3-5 minutes per side until tender. It should brown a bit and turn a shade of olive green. Knob onions will take ~10 minutes total. They will get brown in spots, be sure to move them around a bit. Set aside and slice the cactus paddles once cool enough to handle.

    Now grill the meat and chicken until done to your liking. Allow to rest at least 5 minutes or so and then slice both meats up for serving.

    Grill some tortillas until slightly golden and pliable (this happens in under a minute). Wrap in a towel and set aside. Slice your avocado.

    To serve, stuff your tortillas with strips of steak, chicken, and nopales. Squeeze some lime over everything. Add a slice of avocado. Drizzle with some salsa. Dig in, alternating bites of taco with bites of tender onion. Wash everything down with a cold cerveza. Enjoy!

    *adapted from/inspired by Fiesta at Rick's
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    Have you fired up the grill yet this season? What's your favorite thing to make over a charcoal fire (or gas, if that's your thing)!?

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    22 comments

    1. wow, i don't even eat meat and those look delicious! i love your photography too! thanks for sharing!

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    2. It looks like it was a really fun dinner :) Your photos are wonderful! I had not heard of a jaccard machine before, it sounds like a wonderful way to tenderise the meat and allow it to take up the delicious flavours of your beautifully spiced marinade. I was so interested to see cactus prepared on the grill - I have never eaten cactus before and I have always wondered what it tastes like. Your tacos really do sound absolutely scrumptious!

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    3. Thanks April! I LOOOVE the jaccard machine. You can buy smaller versions that are hand-held...you punch them down (sort of like a stapler or hole punch) to tenderize the meat. =)


      As far as cactus goes (flavor-wise), I think it sort of tastes like a mix of a green bean, asparagus, and lemon or lime. My husband disagrees...but I think that's just the Mexican in him being difficult ;). LOL. I still say it's a good "general" description. But it is slimy like okra...

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    4. Those tacos look amazing, Heather! I am a huge Mexican food fan and tacos are one of my favorite dishes! I love skirt steak and the cactus sounds very interesting!

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    5. I like hearing about the fun things that kids come up with...like chewy steak. They are so honest in what they say! Looks like an awesome summer meal.

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    6. This looks great, Heather! Love the marinade.
      And....love your last game-changer post. Nothing more delicious than a roast chicken. It's been fun and I've loved meeting everyone. Let's stay in touch!

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    7. Chewy steak, sounds like my kiddos! the marinade is awesome. I know mi familia would love this, love the cute pics!

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    8. LOL, I know...kids say the darndest things ;P

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    9. Is E drinking a beer? ;-) I love your grilled feast! And my butchers seriously need one of those magical machines. I wonder if there is something we can make at home?
      Delicious spread!

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    10. LOL, I noticed that when I put the picture up. Naughty boy ;P


      You probably could fashion something. Take a bunch of exacto blades and attach them to a "block" of sorts... sounds dangerous!

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    11. The weather we've been having lately DEFINITELY calls for grilling and this sounds like the perfect meal! Loving the marinade. Mostly because of the cinnamon. Swoon.

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    12. I love the picture of the kiddos pigging out. Too cute! The whole meal looks like a delicious feast. Never tried nopales before. It's on my list of things to try during our time with Rick.

      Like Natashya said, E does look like he's drinking a beer :-)

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    13. Wow--what a dinner! It all looks amazing. I keep hoping to find nopales here but no luck yet. ;-)

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    14. I am SO hungry for this right now. I've never heard of them called knob onions. Now I know. :)

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    15. Carrie | acookgrowsinbrooklynJune 5, 2012 at 8:59 AM

      I am completely taken by all of the grill marks and evidence of a good charcoal fire. I am swooning with envy. In my teensy Brooklyn apartment, we have gotten used to "grilling" with a cast iron grill pan. Believe me, never do I think this will be close to the same flavor as the real thing. But I can live vicariously!

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    16. The weather we've been having lately DEFINITELY calls for grilling and this sounds like the perfect meal! Loving the marinade. Mostly because of the cinnamon. Swoon.

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    17. I think you just inspired me to make chicken fajitas for dinner! I need to get me one of those jaccards.

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    18. Lyndsey@TheTinySkilletJune 13, 2012 at 2:20 AM

      I was the same way when I was young growing up in Michigan. I would love to grill in the winter with the snow on the ground. Here in Florida, of course we grill year round. It's almost too hot to grill in the simmer. hehe! I have a charcoal grill that is a smoker too. I love it. I do the grilling in our family, my dad taught me at a young age how to grill. I love these grilled tacos, always a favorite.

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