The keys to making perfect chicken fajitas, according to a golf-club chef
Courtesy of Rio Verde CC
Welcome to Clubhouse Eats, where we celebrate the game’s most delectable food and drink. Hope you brought your appetites.
When Tiger Woods tees it up in Augusta in less than two weeks, he’ll have the chance to tie Jack Nicklaus for the most Masters victories. To commemorate that upcoming opportunity, we thought we’d cook a meal in honor of Eldrick; for inspiration, we looked to menus from past champions’ dinners that he’s hosted at Augusta National.
In 1998, a young Tiger kept the meal equally youthful, serving cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, French fries and milkshakes. An older, wiser — and perhaps more health-conscious — Woods in 2020 served a meal of mixed cuisines, with fajitas as the main course. (Incidentally, Woods also featured fajitas during his champions’ dinner in 2006.)
To make championship-worthy chicken fajitas at home, we sought the guidance of Executive Chef Nery Palma, who makes fajita night a common event at Rio Verde Country Club, located about 30 miles northeast of Phoenix — a region where Tex-Mex flavors are king.
Right out of the gate, Palma dispels a common misconception about the dish. Although they’re brought to the table sizzling in a scalding-hot cast iron skillet, the meat and vegetables that make up a fajita dish aren’t typically cooked on (or in) a cast-iron pan. That means if you’re cooking fajitas at home, you don’t even need a cast iron skillet.
“I like to grill my chicken,” Chef Palma acknowledges, “Grilling meat gives it a distinct and unique charred flavor and texture.”
To do it right, Palma advises every home cook to use a meat thermometer. Once the meat registers 162 degrees, he says, you should pull it from the grill and let it rest for a couple of minutes. As for the temperature of the grill, Chef Palma insists the hotter the better. “We chefs, if we’re searing, we like it as hot as possible,” he says. “I like my grills at least 400 degrees. You need the grill hot because you want to sear the juices into the meat.”
As for the fajita vegetables, Palma likes to use sliced white onions and tri-color peppers, the latter of which provides “a more festive look” to the plate. And a traditional sauté pan, he says, is all you need to cook the veggies properly.
But the secret to great fajitas, according to the chef, rests in the marinades that are used. For the vegetables, Palma mixes a concoction of white wine, lemon and lime juice, cilantro, and garlic. His chicken marinade, on the other hand, is more elaborate. (We’ve included both marinade recipes below.)
The peppers and onions only need to be marinated for a couple of hours, but according to Chef Palma, the chicken should rest in the marinade overnight (for no less than 12 hours). Palma also likes to thinly slice the chicken before adding it to the marinade, which imparts more flavor into the chicken and also changes the meat’s coloring. “My fajita chicken doesn’t look white,” he explains. “It takes on an orangey color.”
As long as you follow those steps — and you have the requisite accoutrement on hand (rice and beans, fresh pico de gallo, guacamole, and fresh tortillas) — you’ll be well-equipped to create chicken fajitas worthy of their own championship dinner. “It’s a dish that anybody came make,” Chef Palma assures, “so long as you have the right marinades.”
Rio Verde Country Club’s Fajita Chicken Marinade
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. sesame seeds
1/4 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. Mexican oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1 tbsp. chili adobo (or re-hydrated guajillo pepper)
1 tbsp. lime juice
1/2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp. paprika
1/2 oz. Achiote paste
1/2 tbsp. salt
In a sauté pan over medium heat, toast the black pepper, sesame seeds, and cinnamon stick until fragrant.
In a large bowl, combine all other ingredients.
Add the toasted spices to a blender or spice grinder and process until granulated, then add to the bowl and stir to combine.
Rio Verde Country Club’s Fajita Vegetables Marinade
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. dried whole oregano
1/4 bunch of fresh cilantro (whole)
In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except for the cilantro.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.