A Mexican Favorite With An Italian Touch

John Trujillo taught me how to make fajitas over a bar counter. I never set foot in the kitchen of the restaurant he owned for 20+ years but I spent a lot of time sitting at the bar. His daughter was a good friend of mine in high school–still is–and so many afternoons were spent at “The Mish,” as the family restaurant, Mission Trujillo, was known. Sadly, the restaurant closed its doors in December of 2006, while John and the family set out on new adventures.

The secret to the Mish’s delicious (and naughtily named) Chi-Chi Chicken as well as their fajitas? Italian dressing. It might sound blasphemous coming from the proprietor of a Mexican restaurant, but chicken marinated in Italian dressing yields beautiful results!For the past several months John has been valiantly fighting against cancer. I know his family thinks there is no such thing as too many prayers, so if you have time to send good ju-ju John’s way, please do. Regardless, I think of him every time I make these fajitas, and I hope you will too.

[Update: John passed away in his wife’s arms at 10:30 pm. on December 31, 2011, their 29th wedding anniversary.]

Chicken Fajitas
–1-2 TBSP Italian salad dressing
–2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into thumb sized pieces
–1 TBSP olive oil
–garlic, minced
–1 medium white onion, sliced vertically into 1″ pieces
–1 small red onion, sliced vertically into 1″ pieces
–1 red bell pepper, top and seeds removed, then sliced vertically into 1″ pieces
–1 green bell pepper, top and seeds removed, then sliced vertically into 1″ pieces
–fresh cracked pepper (and lots of it!)

**Note: The best fajitas are made in a cast-iron skillet. Mine was unavailable during the making of this recipe. But I highly recommend cooking fajitas (and all the delicious accoutrement) in a cast-iron skillet. That skillet will deliver beautiful blackened chicken and wonderfully caramelized vegetables, far superior to what any other pan can do.

You can marinate the chicken as early as the night before, though I usually only do mine for about an hour. I believe the Mish marinated theirs for at least several hours before cooking, so the choice is yours.

Heat a medium-sized skillet on medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan, followed by the veggies. Crack fresh black pepper over the veggies (I layer it on thick). Cook until tender, using tongs to flip a few times during the process. My favorite trick is to layer the veggies in the pan and leave them alone for several minutes until they begin to brown, then I flip them and repeat on the other side until its time to simply toss to continue an even cooking and browning pattern. When the veggies are softened to your liking, set aside.

Add the chicken to the same pan and coat with more fresh cracked pepper. Tossing the chicken regularly will help the chicken from sticking to the pan. You can add a little more oil if necessary (1 TSP is enough to do the trick) and then try the let-brown-on-one-side-before-turning method described above if you like. Cook until the chicken is salmonella-free, then add the pepper/onion mix back to the pan to re-heat and mix. Serve!

Dammit Jim, I’m a cook, not a doctor…
Time: 25 minutes active cooking time + minimum 1 hour marinating time
Serves: 251 per serving
Calories: 4

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