To be quite honest, I had given up on making hot sauces. Mine were anything but memorable. Then I met Pedro. He arrived for retreat with a group of Hispanic men. They provided the retreat leader. We provided the food.
Soon after arriving, Pedro came to the kitchen asking where to store his half gallon of hot sauce. A half gallon! He confided that the men in his group would go nowhere unless they had this salsa. It was his secret sauce.
Pedro was older than the other men, most of whom addressed him as “Tio,” a Spanish term of endearment literally “uncle.” He walked about with a gentle fatherly air which the younger men appreciated at least as much as the salsa.
By the close of the weekend Pedro and I had become bonded. I was convinced of the bond when Pedro came into the kitchen and quietly told me that he was passing on to me the secret to his famous salsa.
“I’ve not told this secret before,” he assured me. “The guys ask me all the time. Now I am going to tell you.”
I was shocked and honored. That was two decades ago and I still remember the moment, one I hold closely and dearly.
What I learned from Pedro is that the roasting, toasting, or frying of the hot peppers is what makes all the difference in the final outcome. Does it ever! In the last twenty years I have worked with a variety of hot peppers for a variety of recipes. This I know for certain: if you do not take the time to roast, toast, or fry the pepper, you have missed out on a heck of a lot of great flavor. There are no substitutes, no way to make it up.
Pedro was using dried peppers. This was March and dry peppers were all that was available to him. Come summer he would be using fresh hot peppers. Use either dried or fresh and you STILL roast, toast, or fry.
Depending on your palate and your heat tolerance you may be more interested in the mildly hot peppers like the Santa Fe or the rellano-type pepper. On the hotter extreme you could go with habanero or Hungarian Carrot.
With any variety, always test for heat. In some seasons the peppers carry little heat. You will want to use more than usual. At other times the peppers will be hotter than you expect. Just know the heat level of the peppers at hand so you can make reasonable adjustments to your mixture.
For his salsa Pedro was using fourteen Serrano peppers. I used five and loved the results. Pedro’s friends would have sent my salsa back to the kitchen. We all have different heat tolerances!
The following recipe makes about a quart of salsa. Feel free to double or quadruple the recipe, or cut it in half.
This is a fun recipe, especially using Pedro's secret trick.
Combine the onions, garlic, and tomato in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn the heat to low. Simmer until the vegetables are completely soft and the mixture has reduced by almost a half.
While the tomato mixture is simmering, place the peppers on a piece of baking parchment atop a small baking sheet.
Roast the peppers at 450 degrees until they are blistered all over.
Allow the peppers to cool enough to handle.
Cut off the top of the peppers with the stem. Scrape out some of the seeds if you want to reduce the heat. Pull off whatever skin is loose and discard the skin.
Chop the peppers a bit with a chef’s knife.
Work your fingers into the lemon slice to help neutralize any heat that may be lingering there.
Place the finished tomato mixture and the roasted peppers in a blender or food processor. Blend it to as smooth a mixture as you like.
Store the salsa in an air-tight, nonporous container in the refrigerator....
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