Salsas are the lifeblood of just about every Mexican dish. They can be cooked or raw, made in the blender or in a molcajete. Salsa can make or break any dish, add a special dimension of flavor or even make a dish edible (you wouldn’t eat chicharrón without cooking it in salsa to soften the dried meat).
The simple combination of tomatoes (jitomate or tomatillos/red or green), chiles (of any variety) and other ingredients like onion, garlic and spices is essential to many traditional dishes in Mexican cuisine. Salsa verde is certainly a staple in my house, whether it’s cooked and used for guisados like chicharrón en salsa verde, or raw salsa used for garnishing tacos.
You’ll notice this same cooked salsa recipe will be used over and over again in a number of dishes you’ll read about here and I’ll reference back to it often and sometimes modify it (for example, when making chilaquiles, I substitute fresh chicken stock in place of water).
In Mexico, we’ve eaten similar recipes to mine at many of our favorite restaurants, though some places use epazote in their cooked salsa (an ingredient I don’t use). In Chicago, we haven’t found a place that makes salsa verde the way we like it—or anywhere near it, really. Because of this, we sometimes order take out from our favorite Mexican restaurants and bring it home to eat it with our own homemade salsa.
SALSA VERDE COCIDA
- A little over 1 pound of small (milpero) tomatillos, dehusked & thoroughly washed
- 3-6 serrano chiles (depending how spicy you like it; start with less and add them to increase heat), stems cut off
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 2 slices of white onion
- A big pinch of Kosher salt
First, dehusk and wash the tomatillos well. You’ll notice they’re sticky, which is a sign of ripeness, and probably slightly dirty under the husk. Sometimes I find that warm water isn’t enough, and I use a few drops of dish soap diluted in a bowl of warm water. Then I put the dehusked tomatillos in the bowl and gently rub each one in the slightly soapy water to remove the dirt and sap. Rinse them well in cool water to remove any soap residue.
Fill a pot with water (large enough to fit all the tomatillos) and bring to a boil. Put the tomatillos in and cook in the boiling water until the tomatillo flesh begins to get transparent. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatillos to a blender. Add the onion, garlic and salt. Cut the stems off the serrano chiles and cut each chile into a few pieces so they’re easily chopped in the blender. Start by adding 2 chiles to the blender with about ¾ of a cup of water and blend on high (liquify or puree) until smooth and the chiles and tomatillos are completely incorporated. Taste the salsa to see if it’s too hot; if it needs more chile, add them one at a time, blending & tasting the result until you are happy with the level of heat from the chiles. If it seems the salsa is not quite liquid enough, add another ¼ cup of water. The salsa will reduce slightly when cooked.
Pour blender contents into a saucepan and heat over medium flame until the salsa boils, occasionally stirring. Remove from heat and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Stores well for about 10 days.
- Tip: for extra flavor with salsa verde cocida, you can also add 2 strips of chicharrón (with meat still attached) to season the salsa. You should add the chicharrón during the end stage when you cook the salsa until it boils for a few minutes, then remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature before storing to infuse the chicharrón flavor. This flavor infusion method only works with the cooked salsa.
SALSA VERDE CRUDA
Repeat the same cleaning method for the tomatillos as above, and using same ingredients.
Instead of cooking the tomatillos and boiling the salsa after blending, put the raw tomatillos directly into the blender with all other ingredients. Add the chiles to taste, starting with 2 and adding more if necessary. If it’s too dry, add a few tablespoons of water to the ingredients and blend well until smooth. Stores in an airtight refrigerated container for up to 3 days.
- What do you do differently in making your salsas verdes or where is your favorite place to eat a dish that includes salsa verde?