Do you ever get into a cooking rhythm that leads you in one direction, and one direction only? Like, say, south, to Mexico? And all you want to cook are luscious sauces, flavorful side dishes, and a variety of salsas? Yeah, I’ve been there. I am there. All I want to eat is Mexican food, all the time, every single day. And with a couple of incredible Mexican food cookbooks at my disposal, this little habit of mine could go on for quite some time
This salsa is a direct recipe from Rick Bayless, he of the encyclopedic knowledge of all things related to the cuisines of Mexico. So embroiled in the specifics of the foods is Bayless, I admit that I am actually somewhat intimidated by a large chunk of his recipes. I have to roast that thing for how long? And then find fat from what animal? And do WHAT with it? That’s the part where I close the book and walk away, wondering for the tenth time that week if it’s possible to actually hurt yourself by eating too many corn tortillas.
Now that I have thoroughly scared you away from Mr. Bayless, allow me to attempt to reel you back in. Not all the recipes in his books are head-spinningly complex. Bayless, though unfailing in his ability to bring authentic Mexican foods to the American masses, is also a great source for recipes that are simple, straightforward, and utterly delicious. His salsa roja (red chile and tomatillo salsa) is one of my favorite basic salsa recipes, and it’s a great addition to anyone’s Mexican cooking repertoire. Last year I used this salsa to flavor some flank steak for my husband’s birthday dinner, and it was a mighty fine success. Paired with some slices of crisp red peppers and cool, creamy avocado, it made tacos that were deemed some of the best to ever cross one’s plate.
Slowly and steadily, with this salsa as my entry point, I plan on tackling more of Bayless’ catalog. Perhaps I’ll baby-step my way there, sitting calmly at my dining room table while I peruse some books and eat this salsa.
Salsa Roja (Red Chile and Tomatillo Salsa)
From Mexico One Plate at a Time, by Rick Bayless
You can use any variety of small hot dried chile in the recipe. I used dried chipotle peppers, since I happened to have some on hand. Bayless specifies that you can also use cascabel, arbol, piquin, and many others. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, Bayless helpfully mentions that ½ ounce of dried chiles corresponds to 6 red chipotles, 4 tan chipotles, 16 arbols, 3 cascabels, or ¼ cup piquin.
½ ounce small hot dried chiles, stemmed
6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 pound tomatillos (about 10-12 medium), husked and rinsed
½ to 1 teaspoon salt
about ½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
In an ungreased skillet set over medium heat, toast the chiles, stirring for a minute until they are aromatic and start to develop little darkened spots on them. Transfer to a bowl, cover with very hot water, and rehydrate the chiles for 30 minutes.
In the same skillet, roast the garlic, turning frequently, until soft and blackened in places, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then remove the papery skins.
Roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet set 4 inches below a very hot broiler. Roast until the tomatillos are soft and slightly blackened, about 5 minutes on each side. Cool the tomatillos, then transfer them, along with any juices that were released during the roasting process, into a blender or food processor.
Drain the chiles and add them to the tomatillos, along with the garlic. Puree, then pour into a serving dish. Stir in enough hot water to give the salsa a spoonable consistency, about ¼ cup. Add salt to taste, then, if desired, add in a small amount of sugar (I never add the sugar, but I like the tartness of tomatillos).
Salsa will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
Makes about 1 ¾ cups.