Cilantro-and-Lime Marinated Chicken Fajita Kebabs
I was never a chicken fajita type a guy—why settle for comparatively flavorless and dry chicken when you can have juicy, tender, and beefy skirt steak, a king among cuts. I held onto that unwavering opinion for a long time, until one day a few years I devised a marinade for chicken fajitas so delicious that I not only found myself enjoying them, I actually endorsed it as a recipe you really need to make. Even though I've remained steadfast in my use of beef for fajitas since then, there's been a lingering desire to make those chicken fajitas again. As I was working on a whole slew of skewers last summer, I thought why not give myself my fix, and threw a chicken fajita skewer into the menu line up with my other lamb, beef, and chicken creations.
So what makes that marinade so good in the first place? Well, it starts with a base of cilantro and lime juice, which embeds a fresh and bright flavor that breathes life into listless chicken. Then there's raw garlic for bite, cumin for earthiness, red pepper flakes for heat, and dark brown sugar to add color and balance out a little of the acidity.
I add in olive oil as well and give the entire concoction a spin the blender until it's as smooth as it's going to get. What comes out is a beautifully bright green marinade packed with a flavor that gives a unique Tex-mex character to anything it touches.
In this case, it was chicken thighs. I originally had devised the marinade to make my plucky enemy—the chicken breast—something worth eating. Thighs, on the other hand, are juicy, delicious dark meat, and I can totally get behind that. So I figured if the marinade did a breast justice, it would fare even better here.
After a couple hours in the marinade, I removed the chicken and threaded them onto water soaked wood skewers. In between each piece of meat, I placed the usual fajita subjects—onion, red pepper, and green pepper. I had cut everything to be a fairly uniform size for even cooking on the grill.
I placed the bright green, saucy skewers on the grill over direct heat. The hot fire singed the edges of the veggies and started adding color to the chicken right away.
As it cooked, those kebabs developed a lovely golden brown color with some light green spots that combined to give a hint of all the flavor to come.
These skewers were every bit as delicious as I remembered those chicken fajitas being a couple years ago. Actually, they were even better in my mind because the layered flavor of marinade was paired with more tender, moist, and tasty chicken thighs. The meat had a pleasing mixture of freshness, earthiness, and a touch of heat that gained a true fajita feel with the crisp-tender onions and peppers. You could even empty the contents of the skewer in a warm flour tortilla to make your fajita experience totally complete.
Cilantro-and-Lime Marinated Chicken Fajita Kebabs
- Yield 6 servings
- Prep 20 Minutes
- Inactive 1 Hour
- Cook 15 Minutes
- Total 1 Hour 35 Minutes
- 1/2 cup packed coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1/3 cup lime juice from about 6 limes
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 medium cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (see note above)
- 1 large red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 large green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 large white onion, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes and separated into 3-layer segments
- Wooden skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to use
- Place cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, brown sugar, salt, cumin, and crushed red pepper in the jar of blender. Pureé until smooth. Place chicken cubes in a large resealable plastic bag. Pour in marinade and seal bag, removing as much air as possible. Place in refrigerator and marinate for at least 1 and up to 5 hours.
- Thread chicken onto skewers, alternating with pepper and onion squares.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Grill skewers until well browned on all sides and center of chicken registers between 160-165°F on an instant read thermometer, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer skewers to platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
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Arthur LeVesque | RUB IT ON YOUR MEAT Josh, what a great recipe! The cilantro lime marinade sounds and looks amazing! I saw your post on serious eats this morning with the cheese crisp taco shell and I may have to try out a hybrid of the two recipes this weekend. I'm thinking cilantro lime shredded chicken with cheese crisp taco shells! I just ate breakfast and my mouth is watering for dinner! Thanks for the post!
Fritz Looks awesome! File this under "must try ".
Wonder what would happen if one added a splash tequila?
A couple questions re the cast iron grates shown in the pic.
It looks like they haven't been cleaned. Is that so they build up a layer to protect from rust? Im think about getting that grate, but i am obsessive about keeping the me grates clean and that would do.
What is the hassle factor in removing the grate to add the hot coals? I have an performer with gas lighter for my chimney, i guess i would have to remove the 4 grates and the frame each time? Or am i missing something. I would like to upgrade to heaver grate but im on the fence.
Chad Thompson You are crushing it on the kebabs, Josh!
Arthur, I love your hybrid idea :)
Arthur LeVesque | RUB IT ON YOUR MEAT Thanks Chad! Something came up this weekend and we didn't get a chance to try out this recipe but I'll let you know how it turns out!
andy milliken not a big fan of cilantro, but a big fan of tequila. how well does tequila work in this recipe, and if it does, how much?