The Best-Ever, Only-Recipe-You'll-Ever-Need: Tomato Salsa
We tested the 6 “best” recipes to find “the bestest”
Every other month on Kitchen Stories, we investigate the best-ever recipe for classic dishes by putting the top recipes from chefs and food blogs to the test. We prepare and serve them to our highly-qualified Kitchen Stories Eat Force and rank them to find the ‘bestest’ recipe. If you have a special request for the next best recipe, leave a comment underneath the article!
There are only a few dishes that taste as summery as salsa to me. Is if because salsa is made with fresh and flavorful ingredients and the flavor of the ripe and seasonal summer tomatoes shine in a salsa? Probably! Salsas are also far from complex or complicated to make. They’re easy to transport and even taste better al fresco. While it’s true that no one would get full by eating salsa alone, luckily, a salsa can be added to plenty of dishes to give them a fresh twist. Think crispy corn chips with salsa, tacos or toast topped with salsa, or even a hearty rice dish with some salsa on the side.
However, since salsa is the Spanish word for ‘sauce’, we had to narrow down today’s selection. Comparing an avocado salsa with a salsa verde might not be particularly enlightening as it’s like comparing apples to oranges, right? This is why I chose 6 recipes for tomato-based salsas—I just couldn’t limit myself to 5 recipes!
But don’t worry, this contest between tomato and tomato is far from boring. From salsa roja to classic pico de gallo to a spicy chipotle salsa, there’s a big range of flavor and texture and you’ll (hopefully) learn a lot from the different preparation methods. What I’m especially curious about? Is cilantro needed for the perfect salsa? Which spices and chilies are the best choices—does a salsa even need to be spicy? Should you always go for fresh tomatoes or is it also fine to go with canned ones?
One of the best-known types of tomato salsa is called salsa roja, which means “red salsa.” The recipe from My Latina Table is simple to prepare but according to Charbel, the author herself, it’s “better than anything you can buy in the store.” She uses tomatoes, onion, cilantro, garlic, and a jalapeno to add some spiciness. All ingredients are first mixed together, then heated up to simmer for a few minutes. I noticed this extra step in several Mexican blogs—does it really help to make this salsa better than what you can buy?
Martha Stewart must not be missing in our recipe tests as she has proven herself so far with three wins and two second-bests. Today, she’s entering the contest with her classic roasted salsa. The ingredient list is kept simple: tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, garlic, lime juice, and cilantro. But what makes this salsa special is that she starts by roasting the tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, and garlic in the oven. Afterwards, they are mixed with all the remaining ingredients. Will a roasty, toasty salsa give her her fourth win?
Salsa verde is a green salsa made from tomatillos or green tomatos. This salsa is a very good choice for an enchilada or taco topping, but tastes just as good as a dip for tortilla chips. You can get green tomatoes in bigger supermarkets, delicatessen shops, or Mexican supermarkets. Instead of jalapeno, this salsa uses three serrano chilis.
For a spicy comparison, on the scoville scale, a jalapeno clocks is at 2,500 - 8,000 scoville and a serrano chili reaches 10,000 - 25,000 scoville. To make this salsa, first the tomatillos, onions, garlic, and serrano chilies are cooked, then mixed with cilantro. In the last step, the salsa goes back to a pot with some oil and simmers for 20 minutes. This is mentioned on as the “salsa making secret” and “magic step.” Will magic really do the trick to push this salsa verde to the top of our list?
Chipotle chilies are smoked jalapenos that resemble sun-dried tomatoes in their texture. On the scoville scale they are at 5,000 - 15,000. Often you’ll find chipotle chilies either as a whole chili, in the form of powder, or canned in adobo sauce (a thick tomato-based sauce with vinegar). The canned ones in adobo sauce are exactly the chilis that you need for this salsa from Mexican Please.
Depending on your taste, you can use more or less chili, with or without their seeds—peppers with their seeds are hotter—but there’s one detail regarding the preparation that you have to follow. “MUST ROAST TOMATOES!” they say. So of course we’ll throw them in the oven. Once the tomatoes are roasted, they get mixed with onion, garlic, and chipotle chili. But can you spot the difference? This is the only recipe that doesn’t use cilantro. It’s getting about to get very interesting...
Like Martha Stewart’s recipe, Bon Appétit’s is also a charred salsa. But instead of roasting the ingredients in the oven, they fry plum tomatoes in a pan until they are lightly charred, then keep simmering them to thicken the tomato juices. Afterwards, the charred tomatoes get mixed with onion, garlic, a serrano chili, cilantro, and lime juice. Bon Appetit also recommends to serve this salsa when it’s still warm right after mixing.
BBC’s “ultimate tomato salsa” consists of 6 ingredients: tomatoes, red onion, garlic, lime juice, white wine vinegar, and cilantro. There’s no salt, pepper, or chili mentioned in the ingredient list so, to stick to the rules of this competition, we’ll stick to that. What I can say is that the prep time of 5 minutes is kind of a joke, as you already need at least 10 minutes for chopping the ingredients. But, afterwards, all you have to do is to mix these in a bowl and you’re done. The website’s comments give me hope for something great: “Honestly one of the nicest salsas I’ve ever tasted.”
And the award for the best tomato salsa goes to...
By now you probably know what the deal with our “Very Best” article seres is all about, but as a quick reminder: Our hungry Kitchen Stories team conquers the table with all six tomato salsas to try them. In order to not eat salsa by spoonfuls, we served them with crispy tortilla chips. Each salsa was rated in the categories of taste, look, texture, and “wow” factor from 1 (bad) to 5 (perfect).
And here are the results of our search for the best-ever tomato salsa:
5 things we learned from our salsa taste test
1. Use fresh plum tomatoes: All recipes used fresh tomatoes, and most of them explicitly asked for the slender Roma tomatoes (aka plum tomatoes). They are quite firm which results in a salsa that’s not watery, but juicy and fruity. Before using tasteless fresh tomatoes in winter, I’d still recommend to use canned ones instead. Make sure to put them in a fine sieve first which will help to drain any excess liquid that you don’t want in your salsa.
2. Chili? Yes! The salsa verde was the spiciest one we tested, and, since it won the competition, it’s pretty reasonable to infer that a spicy salsa equals a good salsa—right? In case you don’t like to eat spicy food, better start with half of a de-seeded jalapeno instead of three serrano chilies though. You can train yourself to eat spicy food, but you don’t need to overdo it in the beginning.
3. Cilantro? Yes! While my colleagues were testing the salsas, I walked around and asked some questions. Everybody who likes cilantro mentioned it as an essential of a good salsa. Plus, today’s winner recipe uses cilantro, too, so maybe just try it for once, even if you’re a hater. Deal?
4. Salt and pepper are everything you need. When it comes to seasoning a salsa, don’t overdo it. Set aside any dried herbs, cinnamon, paprika, etc., but definitely use salt and pepper to taste. This is essential.
5. The magic trick: Every Italian nonna will tell you that a good tomato sauce (here’s our very best!) needs to simmer for as long as possible and, guess what? A salsa benefits from this tip, too! So instead of just quickly cutting and mixing your ingredients, go the extra mile and let your salsa simmer for a few minutes before serving.
You want more than just tomato salsa?
Try out one of Kitchen Stories’ salsa recipes with mango, watermelon, grapefruit, or peach.
Published on July 21, 2019