Simple Steak Marinade for Fajitas

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On the lookout for new recipes to shake up your weekly routine? Don't forget the fajitas! They're fast, simple and can be altered to suit however you're feeling that night.

You definitely get bonus points if you make homemade tortillas, but don't fret if you're tight on time. The marinade is the most important part, so let's get make sure to get that right.

Know the basics

Fat

Fat is critical — it'll make the marinade stick to the meat as it emulsifies the other ingredients. Plus fat is a great carrier of flavor. Flank steak is the meat of choice for fajitas but, while it has great flavor, it really doesn’t contain much fat. So we'll use a good bit in the marinade to add flavor and help the steak cook evenly, without sticking to the grill or pan.

Oil is best for marinades since it's liquid at room temperature. My choice is olive oil because it adds another layer of flavor.

Salt

You could just use salt here, but soy sauce is better for adding depth of flavor and umami. Even better than that is fish sauce, since it's intensely salty in a briny and bright sort of way.

Acid

Acid helps liven things up with a tang that you can’t get from salt alone. Some people worry that too much acid could “cook” the meat as it sits in the marinade, but that's really not a concern. The marinade never fully penetrates the meat, so acid will only add more flavor. Lime juice is my favorite to include here.

Spices

Here's where things get really exciting and customizable. I keep my spice situation pretty simple with pepper, minced garlic, lime zest, chili powder and cumin, but there's a lot of room for experimentation. Go ahead and try different chili powders, and play with quantity to see if you like more or less spice than I do.

Something worth noting: spices are best fresh, so don't let them sit in your pantry for too long. If you can, buy the cumin seeds fresh, toast them at home and then grind them yourself. There's just nothing like the fragrant burst of freshly toasted seeds whirling in the grinder to get you hyped for this recipe.

Steak Marinade for Fajitas

Adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup lime juice (from 2 large limes)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest (from 1 large lime)

Directions

Whisk everything together and pour over a 1 1/2 pound flank steak to cover. You can do this in a ziplock bag if you trust the seal or just a shallow baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 8 hours.

Simple, right? I also like to save a bit of the marinade to toss with the peppers and onions after they get a good bit of char on them.

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Simple Steak Marinade for Fajitas