Fajitas are a classic Tex-Mex dish that typically consist of grilled steak or chicken, sliced into strips, served with warm tortillas, grilled peppers and onions, guacamole, salsa, and other toppings. While skirt steak is traditionally used for beef fajitas, chicken thighs can make an excellent, flavorful, and budget-friendly alternative to steak.
When preparing chicken thighs for fajitas, proper cutting technique is important to get evenly-sized strips that will cook quickly and evenly on the grill or skillet. Here, we will discuss how to select the best chicken thighs for fajitas, how to prepare the chicken, and step-by-step instructions for cutting chicken thighs into perfect strips or chunks to make fantastic chicken fajitas at home.
Selecting the Best Chicken Thighs
When selecting chicken thighs for fajitas, you’ll want to look for thighs that are evenly sized so they cook evenly. Opt for boneless, skinless chicken thighs for easier prep and cooking. Avoid very large or very small thighs. High quality, locally raised chicken thighs will have the best flavor.
Boneless vs Bone-In
You can use either boneless or bone-in chicken thighs for fajitas. Boneless thighs are quicker and easier to prep, as there is no bone to remove. However, bone-in thighs are usually more flavorful and juicy. If using bone-in thighs, simply remove the bone before cutting the meat.
Skinless vs Skin-On
Skinless chicken thighs are lower in fat and calories compared to skin-on. However, the skin does provide added flavor and moisture when cooking. If using skin-on thighs, simply peel off and discard the skin after cooking if you prefer.
Organic and Free-Range
Opt for organic, free-range, or locally farmed chicken thighs whenever possible. They are more humanely raised and fed a natural diet, which leads to better flavor and quality. Mass-produced chicken can be bland and watery by comparison.
Preparing Chicken Thighs for Fajitas
Properly preparing the chicken thighs before cutting is an important first step for fajitas. Here is how to prepare chicken thighs:
– Rinse chicken under cold water and pat dry with paper towels
– Trim off any excess fat or connective tissues
– Remove skin if using skin-on thighs
– Remove bones if using bone-in thighs
– Pound thighs to an even 1/2 inch thickness (optional, for faster cooking)
– Season thighs well on both sides with salt, pepper, cumin, etc.
– Allow seasoned thighs to marinate in the fridge for 30 mins to overnight, for best flavor
Once prepped, the chicken is ready for cutting.
How to Cut Chicken Thighs for Fajitas
Here are step-by-step instructions for how to properly cut chicken thighs for fajitas:
Method 1: Sliced Strips
Classic fajita prep calls for cutting the chicken into long, thin strips, similar to skirt steak. Follow these steps:
1. Place chicken thigh on a cutting board so the long side is facing you. Use a sharp chef’s knife.
2. Slice the chicken parallel to the cutting board into 1/2 inch thick strips, working from one side to the other.
3. Turn the strips a quarter turn so the grain is now vertical. Slice again against the grain into 1/2 strips.
4. Repeat with remaining thighs until all meat is sliced into thin 1/2 inch strips.
This method gives you nicely sliced chicken strips with good surface area for cooking quickly.
Method 2: Cubed Chunks
For nicely shaped chunks rather than strips, follow this method:
1. Slice thighs first into 1-inch thick strips as in step 2 above.
2. Stack a few strips on top of each other. Cut across the stack in 1-inch intervals to create cubed chunks.
3. Repeat with remaining strips until all chicken thigh meat is cut into 1-inch chunks.
The cubed shape can give a nice visual appeal and makes for easier eating in fajitas.
Tips for Cutting Chicken Thighs
Follow these tips for best results when cutting up chicken thighs for fajitas:
– Use a sharp, non-serrated knife for clean cuts. Serrated knives shred the chicken.
– Cut strips against the grain of the meat for tenderness.
– Don’t cut strips too thin, or they will overcook. 1/2 inch is ideal.
– For strips, flatten to an even thickness so they cook evenly.
– Keep pieces consistently sized for even cooking.
– Rinse knife occasionally if sticky. Wet blade helps slice better.
– Avoid overhandling and pressing meat, which can make it tougher.
Chicken Thigh Fajita Recipe
Once you have perfectly cut chicken thigh pieces, you are ready to cook them up into delicious fajitas. Try this easy skillet chicken thigh fajita recipe:
|For the chicken||For the vegetables|
|1 1/2 lbs chicken thighs, cut into strips or chunks||1 red bell pepper, sliced|
|2 Tbsp olive oil||1 green bell pepper, sliced|
|1 1/2 tsp chili powder||1 yellow onion, sliced|
|1 tsp cumin||1 Tbsp olive oil|
|1/2 tsp oregano||Salt and pepper to taste|
|Salt and pepper to taste|
1. In a bowl, toss chicken thighs with olive oil, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper.
2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add chicken and cook for 5-6 minutes per side until browned and cooked through. Remove from skillet.
3. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to same skillet. Add sliced peppers and onions. Cook for 5 minutes until softened and lightly charred.
4. Return chicken to skillet and toss to combine with veggies.
5. Serve chicken and veggie fajita mix on warm tortillas topped with desired toppings. Enjoy!
FAQs About Cutting Chicken for Fajitas
What’s the best cut of chicken to use for fajitas?
Chicken thighs are the best cut for fajitas because they are juicier and more flavorful compared to chicken breasts. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are easiest to work with.
Can I use chicken breasts instead of thighs?
You can, but chicken breasts tend to be drier and less flavorful. Opt for boneless, skinless chicken breasts and pound them to an even thickness before cutting if using.
What’s the difference between slicing and chunking the chicken?
Slicing the chicken into long thin strips is the traditional fajita prep. This maximizes surface area for fast, even cooking. Cubing the chicken into chunks gives a different visual appeal and can be easier to eat in fajitas.
Should I marinate the chicken before cutting?
Yes, marinating the chicken for 30 minutes to a few hours before cutting will enhance the flavor. Be sure to pat chicken dry before cutting.
Is there a wrong way to cut chicken for fajitas?
Yes, cutting the chicken unevenly can lead to pieces cooking at different rates. Strips should be 1/2 inch thick. Chunks should be 1-inch cubes. Keep the size uniform for even cooking.
With the right technique, cutting chicken thighs for fajitas is easy. The keys are using high quality boneless, skinless chicken thighs, preparing the chicken properly, cutting strips against the grain or cubing into even chunks, and keeping the size uniform for fast and even cooking.
Flavorful chicken thigh fajitas can be made right at home with simple slicing skills. Now that you know how to cut up chicken thighs like a pro, it’s time to fire up the grill or skillet and put together some sizzling fajitas for dinner. The chicken thigh’s juicy texture and great flavor pairs perfectly with smoky peppers and onions. Load it all up with your favorite toppings for an amazing Tex-Mex meal.