If you’re ever in Mexico, you’ll probably stumble upon an immense variety of spicy sauces. They come in so many different colors, textures, densities, and levels of heat. It could easily be said that there are no rules when it comes to Mexican salsas!
With a few exceptions, such as the ixnipec salsa from Yucatán (full of a roasted habanero flavor) the salsa borracha (drunken salsa) prepared specially for barbacoa and mixed with beer, or even pico de gallo (a fresh mix of diced onion), what you’ll find at taco stands and street food stalls will generally fall into this no-rule rule, and they’re usually referred to just by their color.
Does it look green or greenish? Then it’s green salsa! Does it look red, reddish, or even orange? That’s red salsa. It’s that simple!
Green salsa can be made with cilantro, tomatillo, or avocado – sometimes all three, and sometimes none of the above. Red salsa may have a smoky flavor due to a mix of dried and smoked peppers. The ingredients can be blended raw, boiled, grilled, or charred. All of these varieties make it hard to tell exactly which ingredients are in a salsa, and really hard to tell what kind of chilies are being used. That means you can almost never tell which salsas are the hottest just by looking at them.
Salsas are a key factor that could easily make or break any restaurant’s reputation. They’re usually served as an appetizer along with tortilla chips, or as a side dish to season every course. They’re practically ubiquitous on a Mexican table.
At the heart of any home kitchen, there’s always a special salsa. Often an expression of local produce and techniques, it’s only expected that chefs and cooks all over the country are constantly trying to come up with new and creative recipes, mixing unexpected flavors and chilies while still maintaining a familiarity that appeals to a customer’s taste buds.
Recipes are often passed through generations and guarded jealously, and it’s not unusual that some vendors prefer to sell bottled versions of their salsas rather than giving away their secrets, even to their most beloved customers.
Although salsa is one of the basic condiments to almost any dish (and no matter how much you think you like your food spicy!) it’s always better to be cautious when adding it to your food. Remember: all salsas are meant to be hot, that is their purpose. You can always increase the heat, but can’t go backwards, and no one wants to end up with a taco so spicy it’s inedible.
Once you figure out which flavors you like, you’ll be able to come up with your own ways to decipher which salsa is the right one to dribble on your tacos!