Salsa has been America’s favorite condiment since 2000, when it supplanted ketchup in sales. But it actually has been a favorite condiment for thousands of years.
The wild chile was domesticated about 5200 B.C.E. and tomatoes by 3000 B.C.E., both in Central America. The two ingredients were combined into a condiment, incorporating other ingredients like squash seeds and even beans (the predecessor of one of our favorites, tomato, corn and bean salsa). The Spanish conquistadors, taking over in 1529, called it “salsa,” the Spanish word for sauce.
Salsa was not used as a dip for tortilla chips, which weren’t invented until the late 1940s in Los Angeles. It was a general sauce for meat, poultry, fish and vegetables. (Here are the history of salsa and the history of tortilla chips.)
So today’s tip is: Take salsa back to its origins and use it as a sauce for fish and poultry. Here’s the easiest way, from Jillipepper, a New Mexico-based salsa maker.
Fish steaks or fillets, 4-6 ounces each
1 salsa, jar or homemade
1. BRUSH the fish liberally with the salsa.
Salsa-coated chicken. Photo courtesy McCormick.
2. COOK on a grill over medium heat or under the broiler. Turn and brush with salsa every 5 minutes until fish is done.
When you use salsa with chicken or fish, it can be traditionally savory, or sweetened with fruit. (See the different types of salsa.)
If you like things sweet—and easy—McCormick has a popular Salsa Chicken recipe that combines canned tomatoes with apricot preserves, and a Montreal Salsa Chicken that combines mild salsa with peach preserves.
Both of those combine tomatoes with fruit, but you can also make a pure fruit salsa with no tomatoes.
Peach salsa is the best-selling fruit salsa flavor in the U.S., beating mango and pineapple. While most bottled peach salsa is tomato-based salsa roja, you can make fresh peach salsa without tomatoes. Wait for peach season, though; then combine 2 cups peeled, finely diced peaches, 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion, 2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper, 1 de-seeded and finely chopped jalapeño, juice of 1 lime, 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or basil leaves and 1 clove minced garlic. Add salt to taste.
Mango pineapple salsa is also easy to whip up. Combine 1 diced mango and 2 cups of diced pineapple with ½ medium onion, diced; ½ cup cilantro, diced; the juice of one lime, and salt and pepper to taste. You can also add minced jalapeño for heat.
Cherry salsa goes nicely with chicken or fish. You can use fresh cherries in season, but frozen cherries work fine. Here’s a salmon recipe with cherry mango salsa.
And when watermelon season returns, how about a watermelon, corn and black bean salsa?
Grilled fish with a savory salsa. Photo from the cookbook, South American Grill, courtesy Rizzoli USA.
We prefer a largely savory salsa with grilled fish, sometimes with diced fruit—mango, peach or pineapple tossed in for balance, but never, ever with added sugar.
While you can use salsa from a jar, making your own is easy and you can customize it with your favorite ingredients. You can also create your preferred texture, from chunky hand-diced to puréed in the blender.
The possible combinations are [almost] endless”
POSSIBLE SALSA INGREDIENTS
Tomatoes: in the off season, use cherry tomatoes
Fruit: grape, mango, melon, peach, pineapple or other fruit
Onions: green onion, red onion, sweet onion
Herbs: basil, cilantro, parsley
Acid: wine vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice
Heat: jalapeño or other fresh chile
Seasonings: salt, pepper, garlic
Enhancements: black beans, capers, corn kernels, gherkins, olives
HOMEMADE SALSA RECIPE
3 pounds tomatoes, diced and seeded
Optional: 1/2 pound diced fruit
1/2 small red onion (more to taste), small dice
2 or 3 small jalapeño chiles
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar (or more to taste)
1/2 of a lemon or lime, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup or more cilantro (if you don’t like cilantro, substitute parsley)
2 splashes of red wine vinegar (about a 1/2 teaspoon)
1. REMOVE the stems from the cilantro. Remove the white membrane and seeds from the jalapeños and mince the flesh.
2. COMBINE the tomatoes, fruit, onions, jalapeño and garlic. Add the seasonings (vinegar, citrus juice, salt, pepper, cilantro) and toss to thoroughly combine. Allow flavors to blend for a half hour or more (overnight is fine); then taste and adjust seasonings. You may want more vinegar, more jalapeño, etc.
3. Pulse until desired consistency.
This is making us hungry. Guess what we’re having for lunch!