Saturday, February 12, 2011

My salsa journey, part 2

Continued from Monday.

Within two weeks, I had a copy of The Art of Mexican Cooking in my hands. My initial exploration of the book focused on dried chilies. The chapter on "Chiles and How to Prepare Them" (page 453) helped since I had prepared several sauces using dried New Mexico and guajillo chilipods in January.

With my article on Salsa Americana fresh on my mind, I quickly turned to the chapter on "Sauces, Relishes and Salsa" (page 331) to compare it to Kennedy's.

I learned a key point on Mexican salsas. Among the 18 salsa recipes included in the chapter, none listed over eight ingredients. Five or six seemed to be the norm.

What struck me was the simplicity of recipes. Unlike my salsa recipe -- its massive list of 18 ingredients is imposing -- most of Kennedy's salsa recipes share the same ingredients. The predominate ingredients are fresh tomato or tomatillo, chili pepper, white onion, garlic and salt.

The dividing line between the salsa of one region in Mexico when compared its neighbor often rests in the technique used. Even when the same five or six ingredients are used, each salsa differs from the other in flavor and character.

Let's use the first two recipes in the chapter to illustrate this point.

In Salsa Verde Cruda (Raw Green Tomato Sauce) on page 334, the tomatillos are cooked in water until soft, but not falling apart. They're then run through the food processor with cilantro, garlic, serrano chilies and salt. The salsa, which has a bright, refreshing flavor, is often garnished with chopped white onions and more cilantro.

Cooking Salsa De Tamate Verde Cocida (Cooked Green Tomato Sauce) on page 335, on the other had, contributes a deeper, sweeter taste to the salsa. The tomatillos are cooked in water a bit longer, then run through the food processor as before.

One additional step helps to create a new salsa. Set a cast iron skillet over high heat. After coating the bottom of the hot skillet with oil, pour in the raw salsa mixture. Cook it until the salsa reduces and develops a new flavor set. An earthy, cooked flavor will replace the crude taste of the raw salsa.

To be continued ...

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