While hamburgers seem quintessentially American, it turns out that they are less popular than a simple dish that didn’t begin as American at all: Tortillas, with a side of salsa.
For personal and private chefs, salsa is usually an afterthought, a side for a Tex-Mex or Latin American inspired meal. But even chefs who go a step above and beyond and make salsa from scratch, are likely doing it the wrong way.
Back to Basics: Salsa 101
Salsa can actually be traced back to the Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas. However, it was the Spanish who incorporated tomatoes in the 1500’s and transformed it closer to the salsa so many enjoy today.
For Americans, tomato-salsa usually means a blend of tomatoes, onions, spices, herbs, and maybe some form of peppers. The American versions tend to be milder than other renditions, and, while far from universal, tends to be treated with less care than something so popular should be.
Here’s a look at some ways chefs fail to do justice to one of America’s most beloved meal accompaniments, and quick fixes for each.
The Problem: Bland & Forgettable
Your fresh salsa is made with care-the quality of ingredients; the proper storage methods. But even with the freshest tomatoes, cilantro, and chopped onions, the salsa is mild, to the point its flavor is overpowered by the meal it is being served with. Overall, this is a fresh but forgettable salsa.
The Fix: For fresh salsa, served cold, you need two things to bring out flavor: citrus and salt, as incorporated in this recipe. Without either lime or lemon and ample salt, the best ingredients will be overly bland. For a smoky and spicy salsa, consider a hot variety, where the tomatoes are slow roasted to bring in bolder flavor.
The Problem: Tired & Familiar
This is the salsa that has enough kick and flavor, but it’s also been done hundreds of times. While it tastes better than the canned variety, it is hardly distinguishable from pre-made fresh salsas.
The Fix: Experiment. First, there are many varieties of salsa beyond the hackneyed basic tomato salsa. Corn Salsa offers a slightly starchier but still fresh take, while black bean salsa produces a rich and hearty filling for vegetarian tortillas. Chimichurri and chipotle salsas pack a different type of heat, while fruit salsas, from peach salsa to cherry salsa, can be served alongside cinnamon crisps.
The Problem: Too Watery
Texture is important in salsa. While texture preferences vary from chunky to smoother, one thing you don’t want? A watery salsa. Too much excess liquid dilutes flavor and also makes for a messy plate.
The Fix: The problem usually rests with the tomatoes. Before you add in the tomatoes, be sure to de-seed them. Doing so prevents the pulp from further breaking down after you let the salsa rest. Another tip? Use a strainer. Tomatoes are over eight percent water, and straining cut tomatoes will reduce some of that excess you’ll find after letting the salsa rest.
The Problem: Salsa that Tastes Good but Looks Terrible
The flavor, heat, and ingredients are all there. The texture is perfectly balanced and in complement to the dish it’s being served with. But the salsa seems all one color, muted, and more like a lump of canned salsa than freshly made.
The Fix: Less than stellar presentation, of course, has many possible sources. Maybe you need to review proper processing or dicing skills. Maybe the salsa simply has been made too far ahead of time, and the colors have faded. Most commonly, there isn’t enough balance of both color and texture, which is the principle of professional food presentation as a whole. If it’s a tomato based salsa, be sure to use ripe and colorful tomatoes, and to balance the red of the tomatoes with colorful peppers and bright herbs.
For heavier salsa, like a bean salsa, be sure to brighten it up with bolder colors, like diced corn and red (not white) onions. Also remember that fresh citrus helps retain color and texture, and preserves the salsa longer.
With these tips in mind, salsa is bound to be brighter, bolder, and stand hands above canned varieties. Wow clients with salsa that is more than a side, but the star of the dish.