Pico de gallo, made with fresh, ripe, summer tomatoes, is my favorite salsa. It is a perfect combination of raw ingredients: sweet, juicy tomato combined with sharp, biting raw onion and hot, spicy peppers.
Pico de gallo means "rooster's beak" in Spanish, referring to the heat of the peppers.
This is not a recipe to make out of season; the key to the recipe is fresh summer tomatoes. I wait, saving this salsa for late summer and early fall, when the peppers and tomatoes are fresh from the garden.
This is also not a recipe to make if you doubt your knife skills. Cutting tomatoes into a fine dice, as required by this recipe, isn't easy. The thick skin, combined with the soft interior of the tomatoes, results in an ingredient that keeps moving with the knife instead of being cut by it. Serrated tomato knives are OK, but tend to be kind of small; I prefer to use my serrated bread knife, or if it is particularly sharp, my chef's knife.
Is it worth it? Is it worth the waiting, and the work? Absolutely. This recipe is a showcase of late summer vegetable flavors. The results are so much better than the salsa you get at your local Tex-Mex joint; the flavors just explode in the mouth. You will amaze your friends and family when you make it at home with fresh ingredients.
It's even more impressive with a variety of heirloom tomatoes in different colors, like I got from my CSA. Thank you to Tim and his hard working assistants.
Recipe: Pico De Gallo Salsa (Fresh Tomato Salsa)
Adapted From: Rick Bayless Mexican Everyday
- 1 lb tomatoes (2 large, or 3-4 medium)
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ white onion
- 1 hot pepper (jalapeno or long hot for medium salsa, serrano for hot salsa)
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ cup cilantro
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Prep the tomato: Core the tomatoes, then, using a very sharp knife (or a serrated knife), dice the tomato into ¼ inch pieces. Sprinkle the diced tomatoes with the ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, then move the diced tomatoes into a fine mesh strainer. Let the tomatoes drain while preparing the rest of the recipe.
2. Prep the onion: Trim and peel the onion, then dice small (again, ¼ inch pieces). Put the onion in a small bowl, and cover with cold water. Let the onion soak while preparing the rest of the recipe.
3. Mince the rest of the ingredients: Trim the pepper, and mince fine. (If you want to reduce the heat, remove the seeds and membrane from the inside of the pepper). Mince the garlic. Chop the cilantro, leaves and stems included. Put all these ingredients into a medium bowl.
4. Combine and toss the salsa: Shake the strainer full of tomatoes to remove any excess liquid, then add to the bowl with the peppers and herbs. Pour the onions and water through the strainer, shake to remove any excess liquid, then add to the bowl. Toss until thoroughly mixed, then taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. Rest for ten minutes to let the flavors mingle, then serve.
|Ready to toss|
Chipotle: Replace the fresh hot pepper with 1 teaspoon (medium) to 1 tablespoon (hot) pureed chipotle en adobo sauce.
Herbs: No cilantro? Replace it with an equal amount of parsley, or 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme.
There are two tricks to this recipe. Draining the chopped tomato is the first one. Chopped fresh tomatoes have a lot of extra liquid in them. If you don't drain the tomatoes after chopping them, you wind up with a pool of liquid in the bottom of your salsa bowl, and the salsa gets very watery. Draining helps this - you'll still have a pool of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, but it will be much smaller than it would be without the draining.
Soaking the onion is the second trick. Soaking rinses away a lot of the sulfurous heat that comes from cutting the onion, and and leaves the sweet onion flavor behind. (That sulfur is what makes you tear up while chopping the onions.) With very fresh onions this isn't an issue, but with older onions the onion flavor can overpower the tomatoes. Soaking the onion prevents that from happening.
This is our time of year for ripe fresh tomatoes, and I'm trying to make the most of them. If tomatoes are out of season, you can make this salsa with small cherry or grape tomatoes. But, as I said in the opening, it's not quite the same. I would rather make salsa with canned tomatoes out of season; it tastes better.
This recipe works best if you have good knife skills. I made a triple batch this summer at our cottage, and I was chopping for much longer than I thought I would be. A trick from Rick Bayless is to use a food processor to mince the garlic, onions, then half the tomatoes. Then he has you hand-dice the remaining tomatoes, so you get the chunks of tomato that give this recipe its unique taste.
What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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