Fresh Salsa

The secret to unlocking the complex flavors of the ubiquitous salsa fresca or Mexicana lies in the proportions, but also in cutting the ingredients pretty much into precise ⅛-inch cubes. And the serrano no more than 1/16-inch. Be obsessive about this and you will be rewarded.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1 red onion, peeled, finely chopped
  • 2 fresh serrano chilies, stemmed, seeded, finely chopped
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Method

Mix the tomatoes, onion, chilies, and cilantro in a bowl. Add the salt and lime juice. Mix well.

Let the salsa sit for an hour before using. Stir in the oil and serve.

If the sauce is too watery after sitting, drain it before adding the oil and save this delicious liquid for your Bloody Marys, or mix it with olive oil and pour over grilled fish or meat.

Variations

You can make Tomatillo Salsa by using 12 finely chopped tomatillos (outer husks removed and discarded, tomatillos rinsed) instead of the tomatoes, leaving everything else the same, but using fine peanut oil instead of the olive. Or use only 6 tomatillos with 1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped, and the finely grated zest of an orange. Tomatillo salsa is particularly good on grilled or baked oily fish, such as Spanish mackerel, bluefish (my favorite), or shad.

One of my favorite salsas is mango, but in the last 15 years I have definitely gone off using it on fish as I did in my first book. Now I use it on hot grilled or roast pork, duck (Sichuan style spiced and poached), or ham. Make it the same way as the tomato salsa, but substitute 4 ripe mangoes (peeled, sliced, and cut into ½-inch cubes) for the tomatoes and add one red chili (stemmed, seeded, very finely chopped), as well as a cup of fresh mint leaves, blanched, squeezed dry, and finely chopped. Add some chopped ripe Black Mission figs for an even more exotic taste. And almost any tropical fruit can replace the mango, but enhance them all by adding avocado and chopped orange, jasmine, or lemon flowers.

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