By Martin Musialczyk
“Do you know why people like salsa? Because people like to say, SÁLSÁ.” – Jerry Seinfeld
While I have to agree with Jerry that it is a fun word to pronounce, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that people like salsa because it is freaking delicious.
In this article is an amazing salsa recipe handed down to me from some Mexican friends I had the privilege of working with in some of the busiest fine dining restaurants one can work at in Seattle. When I first learned it, I was astounded to find out how simple this recipe was, because I couldn’t believe so few ingredients could provide that much flavor, character and vibrancy. I kept on asking if they were leaving something out: “So, there’s no lime?” Their usual reply to questions like this was a simple “no.”
This recipe is elegant in its simplicity, but has to be performed exactly the way described to get best results. Ingredient substitutions along with alternate cooking methods will produce different characteristics. This isn’t a bad thing, but it should be noted.
This recipe is best if using a cast iron pan, but roasting under a broiler set to high can also yield a great product.
(Step 1) Preheat the cast iron pan at a medium heat for about 20 minutes. Ideally, the pan has enough heat stored in the iron that even the handle is hot. Once you start putting your ingredients in, you will want to have that stored heat to kick in and continue scorching the ingredients.
(Step 2) Place six raw, whole roma tomatoes directly into the pan, stem side down, along with a quarter of a sweet yellow onion. They will look like red Minions standing at attention, the desired effect. Turn the heat up to medium high. Hopefully there is smoke coming off the pan indicating that the tomatoes and onion are getting the necessary heat.
Allow the ingredients to get a nice dark color but turn them every 3 minutes to allow for even cooking on all sides. The darker, the better in this case. You may have to take the onion out before the tomatoes as it will darken quicker.
As soon as the tomato and onion have a nice dark color and have softened quite a bit, transfer them over to a blender and cover but do not blend just yet.
(Step 3) Continuing on, in that same pan, add (according to how spicy you want it) four chiles de arbol (peppers) and allow them to get some color (jalapenos or serrano peppers can be substituted, just add more roasting time to get desired effect). These are spicy dried peppers with papery skin that will burn very quickly, so continue turning them every five seconds. This should only take about 45 seconds. You may want to crack a window as they will set off your smoke alarm and fill your kitchen with an aroma more indicative of a Trump rally rather than a kitchen.
(Step 4) Take them out of the pan. Let cool slightly enough to handle with your fingers. Simply break the stem off and transfer into the blender where the tomatoes are quietly resting.
With three ingredients already in the blender, add two tablespoons of water, half a clove of garlic, and two teaspoons of a non-iodized salt. Turn the blender on medium and allow the ingredients to whirl for at least one minute.
You may need to turn the blender off and give it a shake to allow the ingredients to settle down into the blades. (Public Service Announcement: DO NOT try to push down the ingredients while the blender is working with some sort of utensil. You will not have a good time.)
(Step 5) Once the ingredients have blended, add one tablespoon of fresh cilantro, lightly chopped, to the blender and whirl for about ten seconds. The salsa should taste bright and vibrant.
(Step 6) If it tastes a little bit on the dull side, you may have to add a little bit more salt. Tomatoes need a fair bit of salt to bring out their flavor.
Transfer the salsa to a glass or plastic vessel and place in the refrigerator. It is best at room temperature or cooler. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week, if it lasts that long.
I like to eat it with tortilla chips, put a nice big tablespoon into soup, pour some on carnitas, use as an ingredient in homemade quesadillas, on fried rice, I even use it as a quick marinade if I’m strapped for time (just add some olive oil to it).
Look forward to seeing you next issue.
Steps to Flavor Country
1. Preheat cast iron pan.
2. Roast roma tomatoes and onion on all sides.
3. Roast chile de arbol in cast iron pan until dark but not burnt.
4. In blender, place roasted tomatoes, chile de arbol, onion, garlic, and water and blend until smooth.
5. Into the blended mixture, add cilantro and blend for about 10 seconds.
6. After blending, taste the salsa and adjust for any additional salt needed.