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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)

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
    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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