Saturday, February 26, 2011

My salsa journey, part 3

Continued from last week.

We need to back up a bit in this journey. My effort to create the perfect salsa for the residents at work began before I picked up Diana Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking.

Since I frequently prepare tortilla chips and salsa for the mid-afternoon snack, I read through the basic salsa recipes in Rick Bayless's Mexican Cooking. Using Bayless' basic technique, I wanted a salsa format that could be applied to a variety of culinary applications.

My goal was to replicate the basic salsa recipe that are found in many taqueria and burrito shops near my home. I wanted a process that would apply to both tomato-based and tomatillo-based.

As it turns, Bayless and Kennedy use a similar technique for their salsa recipes. When I opened Kennedy's book in late January, I quickly found that my salsa recipes were prepared in the same spirit that her recipes represent.

To prepare the salsa, I took about five cups of diced tomato (remnants from a stuffed tomato salsa) and pureed it in the food processor. I added one slightly caramelized onion and minced garlic, along with fire-roasted poblano and jalapeno chili peppers. The whole mess was processed until it was finely chopped.

At this point, the salsa differed from Bayless' because I opted to run it through the food processor without first roasting the tomato. The tomato-chili-garlic mixture was flat, yet had a distinctly fresh tomato flavor.

I knew that the best way to incorporate additional flavor into the salsa was to pour it into a blistering skillet. The salsa sputtered and sent red dropplets in a circular pattern around the stove.

Within five minutes, the color changed from bright red to a reddish-brown. Once it cooled, I seasoned it with kosher salt, black pepper and lime juice. A handful of chopped cilantro added a fresh herbal contrast to the cooked salsa.

Although the salsa wasn't as spicy as I wanted, the residents enjoyed it. I've since learned that it takes around four to five medium jalapeno chili peppers to bring out a moderately spiced salsa. Remember that as a rule, a smaller chili pepper will pack much more heat that a larger one.

I now had one more step to take. The next time that I prepared chips and salsa for the ladies at work, I first roasted tomatoes and tomatillos (as separate sheet pans) in the oven with jalapeno chili peppers and whole garlic cloves.

Then, instead of caramelizing the onion, I added one chopped white onion with kosher salt, chopped cilantro and lime juice. The raw onion added a fresh contrast to the cooked tomatoes (or tomatillo) in the salsa.

I'll post both recipes soon -- both Salsa Ranchera and Salsa Verde.

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