Making a fresh, authentic salsa for the table is easy and quick, but even I find myself reaching for the jarred variety on occasion. The big difference (other than freshness) between jarred salsa and home made is the texture. Jarred salsas tend to use tomato paste as a thickener, giving the salsa a sweet flavor. Home made salsas are less sweet, and can be as hot or as mild as you like.
Using a traditional molcajete in your kitchen is the only way to make a truly good salsa. Blenders or food processors are recommended in some recipes, but my opinion is that electric appliances produce a weird smoothie that is no substitution for a real salsa for the table. I use a blender when I need a large amount of sauce for stewing, but rarely for a salsa that will be served on the table as a condiment.
Diana Kennedy shared with me that her objection to table salsas made with a blender was the foam an electric appliance will create. The foam is a less than desirable texture, and distracts you from the salsa flavor. From our conversation, I gathered that Ms. Kennedy found electric appliances insulted the history and legacy of mexican salsas. I agree with her, although I would be hard pressed to make an authentic mole sauce without a blender or food processor. Grinding the nuts, chiles and chocolate more mole or pipian would be arduous, to say the least. And, so time consuming. (Shh, next time you see Diana Kennedy, don’t mention that I cheat on that…)
This is a simple recipe that I use at the ranch whenever we need a quick salsa for our meal. I usually have fresh chiles growing wild out in the yard, and I use those in the salsa. If you can’t find fresh chile piquin in your market, look for dried. If you can’t find them at all, then use chile serrano. You can roast the chile serrano right along with your tomatoes before grinding into a salsa.
Traditional recipe for a molcajete or mortar and pestle
½ lb ripe tomatoes (about 2)
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp whole pepper
¼ tsp chile piquin, dried or fresh
1 clove garlic, peeled
Roast the tomatoes on a heated griddle until the skin blisters and blackens in patches. Remove from them from the griddle, allow them to cool, and peel the skin of with your fingers. Cut the tomatoes in half, squeeze out the seeds, chop into quarters, and set aside.
Using a molcajete, grind the salt together with the whole pepper, chile piquin and garlic. When they are a fine paste, add the tomatoes and crush until no large chunks remain. Serve immediately.
If sauce is too watery for your taste, simply pour into an small skillet, and simmer for about 10 minutes over medium heat to reduce and thicken.
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