Your chips, tacos, and grilled meats deserve the best. And by “best,” what we really mean is a salsa that’s chunky, saucy, scoopable, and packed with fiery, smoky, fresh flavor. You’re not going to find all that in a jarred supermarket salsa. For that kind of flavor, you’ve got to make your own at home. But first, read up on the most common mistakes people make for DIY salsa. Now pass us those tortillas.
1. Don’t Choose the Wrong Tomatoes
All in-season tomatoes are delicious (we don’t have to tell you to skip the hard, flavorless winter tomatoes, do we?), but not all are great for salsa. Recipe developer, prefer plum, roma, beefsteak, and vine-ripened tomatoes. What not to use? ”Heirloom tomatoes should be saved for slicing and eating on sandwiches,” says Perry. Both agree that cherry tomatoes don’t break down and get saucy enough.
2. Always De-Seed Your Tomatoes
Getting rid of the pulpy seeds in your tomatoes can seem like a lot of extra work, but it’s worth it. After the salsa sits—more on that in a moment—the tomatoes will break down. If you didn’t remove the seeds, they will make the salsa extra watery, with a pool of vaguely tomato-flavored liquid at the bottom of your bowl. Nobody wants to scoop vaguely tomato-flavored liquid onto a chip. To de-seed tomatoes, cut them in quarters, lay them skin-side down on a cutting board, and use a sharp paring knife to separate the pulp from the flesh.
Salsa Roja Asada gets its flavor from charred tomatoes. Photo: Danny Kim
3. Do Let It Marinate
Prepare your salsa an hour before you plan on serving it. Not only will the flavors mingle together better, the salt will draw out the moisture from the tomatoes, taking it from chopped slaw to a seasoned, perfectly saucy situation. Just keep in mind: The longer it sits, the soupier it will get, so plan accordingly.
4. Don’t Forget the Acid
All great salsa need a hit of acidity to lighten and brighten their flavors. Perry and Damuck like lime juice (skip the zest; it’s too perfume-y), plain white vinegar, or red wine vinegar, which is a nice match for the tomatoes. Avoid vinegars with overly bossy or clashing flavors, like balsamic and apple cider.
This Salsa Verde is made with arugula. Photo: Hirsheimer & Hamilton
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
While we love a classic Pico de Gallo, we’re also suckers for a charred tomatillo salsa verde, or a creamy-smooth puréed smoky Salsa Roja. Let the farmers’ market be your guide in choosing produce, and don’t be shy about getting a little char on your veg (tomatillos and peppers especially like the flame).
6. Choose Your Chips Wisely
When it comes to chips and salsa, fancier is not always better. In fact, we’re big fans of Tostitos Scoops. “They create a perfect-sized bowl for the salsa,” says Damuck. No matter which chip you dip, keep in mind these two rules: It’s got to be salted, and it’s got to be sturdy. Ultra-thin chips will crumble under the weight of a chunky salsa, and as for unsalted, Perry says, “What’s the point?” If you’re feeling ambitious, you can make your own chips. “It’s as easy as buying soft tortillas, cutting them into pieces, and frying them,” says Damuck. Don’t forget to season with salt! Psst—here’s how to deal with your leftover fry oil.
7. Salt Yes, Pepper No
Be generous with the salt, but skip the ground black pepper. “It’s too low of a base note for zingy salsa,” explains Perry. “Black pepper doesn’t bring the right kind of heat.” When it comes to tomato salsas, the only peppers you should be using are chiles.
8. Save the Dried Herbs for Your Soup
Oregano is optional; cilantro is a must (unless you’re one of those folks whose taste buds identify cilantro as soapy tasting. In that case, science gives you a pass). But please promise us this: You’ll use fresh, never dried, herbs. Save the jar of dried, flaked herbs for your next soup or stew.
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