Trial and error

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I want to make excellent salsa, not just chopped or pureed tomatoes and onions in a bowl, but a truly nuanced condiment. I seek that elusive balance of chunk and puree, the perfect level of chili heat that lingers but doesn’t overwhelm, the ideal acidity. My results have been mostly good, but I’m not happy yet.
I can’t explain why it matters to me so much. Stephen is more or less content with (shudder) Pace extra chunky from a jar. He enjoys and appreciates the good stuff, but he probably wouldn’t seek it out. To me, most salsa from a jar tastes mostly like jar. It tends to be either insipidly bland or membrane-searingly spicy, have an either watery or slimy texture, and a processed taste that I just can’t stomach. I like the Rick Bayless Frontera Grill salsas, but they’re kind of hard to find, to expensive to be a regular purchase, and frankly, a little thin to be ideal.
So I persevere, with my eye focused even more eagerly than usual on tomato season. I’m definitely developing some tricks. Charring (as in the above Roasted Tomatillo and Tomato salsa) under a broiler or in a hot cast iron skillet is helpful, particularly when the tomatoes aren’t yet perfect. It also always makes tomatillos and chilies more succulent. I seed the tomatoes then chop them and the tomatillos roughly. Then I drain everything, lightly sprinkled with salt and placed in a strainer, like a mad woman. Getting rid of those excess juices has an almost magical effect on the texture and the intensity of the flavor. Also, I’ve found that I like to puree 1/2-2/3 of the tomatillos and tomatoes, as well as all of the garlic. I finely chop the remaining tomatos and all of the onion, drain it a little more, and mix everything together. I haven’t yet achieved salsa zen, but I’m on my way. If I could only figure out the correct chili to tomato ratio, I’d be almost there.

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Posted in Food, Tasty Ponderings
8 comments on “Trial and error
  1. Whitney says:

    Have you ever had my mom’s salsa? She makes the perfect salsa, in my opinion. She always tries to use one yellow tomato. And cilantro. And red and green peppers, and lots of the hot stuff. And sometimes fresh garlic. And the secret ingredient? Cucumber. You wouldn’t know it was even in there unless she told you.

  2. Martha says:

    I did a yellow tomato salsa with cucumber last summer. It was nice because the coolness of the cucumber offset the chili heat, so it could be hotter than normal without hanging around and scalding. And speaking of your mom, I can’t wait to see her (and family) in July. I’ve been away from home just long enough to be excited to go back.

  3. tejal says:

    I don’t like them watery either, but I do so like to soak up the sweet tomato-y juices with bread.

  4. Ivonne says:

    I love this post! I couldn’t agree with you more about the importance and superior quality of a homemade, flavourful salsa. I will admit that in a pinch we do also use Pace. But come summer and fresh tomatoes, it’s salsa time!

  5. Julie says:

    Good description of the perfect salsa. Nuanced is what separates the good from the great.
    I am happy with my salsa until I go to even the most modest of true Mexican restaurants and taste their salsa. It always makes me realize that my salsa is sort of like a child’s crayon drawing compared to these salsas which are full of shading, and depth.
    Making the perfect salsa is a good quest.

  6. Martha says:

    You know Julie, that’s true. I don’t know how they manage to make their salsa taste so spicy and onion-y and cilantro-y without drowning out the tomato sweetness. That is indeed nuance.

  7. Seek out the Good Stuff, I say!
    Your salsa descripshunz have my mouth watering.

  8. Martha says:

    Why thank you! Now if I could just get the salsa itself to make consistantly make the mouth water.
    According to Sam over at Becks & Posh, real tomato season is finally beginning, so I expect great things.

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