Restaurant-Style Salsa

 I go through phases in my kitchen. In 2010, I made jam for six months. Strawberry, ginger-nectarine, cherry-vanilla. I made them all, plus a rockin’ grapefruit marmalade that I’ll post someday. But as much as I enjoy making jam, I don’t actually eat much of it–a little on a biscuit here and there, but that’s about it. And so the six months of jam unceremoniously came to an end. Then there was the pickling. Oh, I love to pickle! Especially jalapeños and carrots. And I’m sure my roommates just loved the pervasive cloud of vinegar steam that was our kitchen. When I moved in with Henry though, I stopped the pickling cold-turkey. We share a very small apartment with a pocket-sized kitchen, and the idea that our bedroom would reek of vinegar all the time was just too much for either of us to handle. And so I moved on to salsa. In the first four or so months that we lived together, I made a different batch of salsa every week (tomatillo, amarilla, and habanero, to name a few), and we’d crowd our friends into our apartment to test it out, usually with homemade tostadas or tacos. For all the flavors and colors I toyed with, classic Restaurant-Style Salsa was always the favorite.

Being from Texas, I grew up surrounded by chips and salsa. Tex-Mex restaurants are often judged on the quality of their chips and salsa. If the salsa even seems like it might be manufactured elsewhere, the restaurant is not long for this world. La Familia, my favorite hometown Mexican restaurant, brings out freshly made salsa by the pitcher, just to drive home the fact that it is made in-house. When I moved to New York eight years ago, I quickly discovered that a) there were no Tex-Mex restaurants worth patronizing (something that’s been remedied by Lisa Fain), and b) good prepared salsa simply did not exist. There was a brief period where I could find D.L. Jardine’s Texacante at a local specialty foods store, but that didn’t even last six months. And so I was left to make my own, or be salsaless for the foreseeable future. And being a good Tex-patriot, I simply could not go without.

Logically, I started with fresh tomatoes. While there’s nothing better than in-season tomatoes, they simply aren’t available ten months out of the year. Flavorless January tomatoes cannot be made into salsa that’s worth eating. What’s more, when I have made salsa with even the best tomatoes, it turns an unappetizing whitish pink color. It still tastes good, but it sure doesn’t look it. After reading a few recipes online, it was made clear to me that canned was the way to go. Sure, you could blanch and peel fresh tomatoes, but that seems like a lot of work for something that is going to be puréed. Canned tomatoes taste good year-round and have a gorgeous bright red color. Also, because this salsa is blended, there won’t be any of those big chunks of cooked tomato that are often found in jarred salsas. In my humble opinion, whomever decided that “thick n’ chunky” salsa was a good idea was deeply wrong. 

In addition to the to a 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, you’ll need chipotles in adobo. These are jalapeños that have been smoked and then preserved in a flavorful sauce (adobo). They are super smoky and really add a lot of flavor to the finished salsa, but they definitely pack some heat. When adding them, keep in mind your preferred level of spice. I use four chipotles in adobo for something close to medium-hot, but if you have a low tolerance for heat, start with one pepper and go from there. I don’t recommend leaving them out, simply because the flavor is so rich and gives this salsa a wonderfully smoky flavor.

The rest of the ingredients are standard salsa fare: a small red onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and a pinch of salt. Place all the ingredients (including the tomatoes and chipotles) into a food processor or high-powered blender, and blitz until no large chunks remain. That’s it! While I love this particular blend, feel free to adjust it to your taste. Want less onion? Only use half. Hate cilantro? Leave it out. This is simply what I like. Take my favorite and make it yours.

Restaurant-Style Salsa is great with chips, of course, but also works well mixed into salad dressings and enchilada sauce. Tomorrow’s recipe uses it as the base for soup! Make sure to swing by and check it out! 

 Restaurant-Style Salsa
makes about four cups

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (with liquid)
1-5 canned whole chipotles in adobo*
1 small red onion, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic
1/4-1/3 cup fresh cilantro, washed
juice of 1 lime
large pinch Kosher or sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender. Process on high until no large chunks remain, about 30-60 seconds depending on the machine.

Refrigerate salsa in an airtight container for up to one week.

Note:

Chipotles in adobo can be found in the Goya or international aisles at most grocery stores. I buy Goya or La Costeña. They are also available on Amazon. They freeze well for several months.

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