Salsa roja, or red sauce, it very versatile. Unlike the chunky-style salsa often served with chips, this salsa is more soup textured and served with hot foods (although it, too, can be used as a chip sauce). It can be added to rice dishes or used when making pulled chicken to create tamales, enchiladas and more. It freezes well and accompanies many dishes that work with tomato sauce. Salsa roja simply has more of a kick depending how spicy you make it.
While staying at my cousin’s home, I glanced into the kitchen where her mom was cooking up some traditional Mexican foods. Unfortunately, I did not write down any of the dishes but I remember seeing what she was cooking and salsa roja was one of the base dishes she prepared. From memory, I tried my own version of this Mexican sauce and was quite pleased with the result.
I love making sauces because the ingredients are always so fresh and simple yet they add so much to a dish. This sauce was made with ripe tomatoes, garlic, shallot onion and dried chile.
There is a ridiculous amount of chili varieties that exist in all parts of the world. They are dried, eaten fresh, turned into a paste, pickled, etc. They contain capsaicin which is responsible for the “heat” in chilis which is measured by Scoville heat units (SHU). The higher the number, the spicier the pepper. Where a bell pepper measures 0, there is a pepper called the Carolina Reaper which measures at 2.2 million. Jalapeños, which are common in many dishes, measures 2 500-10 000.
The dried chili used for this salsa roja is called “chile de árbol” or “tree chili”. These little chilis were SPICY and bright red, probably as a warning. They measure between 15 000-30 000 SHU. I had to bring some home from the States because I knew they would find a home in my cooking.
To make the Mexican salsa roja, choose 5 ripe tomatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, and a small shallot onion. In a heated pan, roast vegetables over medium heat. Any pan will do to roast the vegetables but if you have a cast iron pan, it makes a nicer char. You will need to watch and flip everything every few minutes until all sides are done. The total time will be approximately 20 minutes. The garlic will be the first to be done followed by the onion, and finally, the tomatoes. Remove things as they become charred and don’t worry that the tomato skin is breaking. It is very delicate and will be blended anyways.
Once all the vegetables are cooked, blend all the ingredients together in small batches so you get a smooth consistency.
Now comes the heat. Crush a chile de árbol, more if you want spicier but, remember, this is a spicy chili. I even cut the stem off and emptied some of the seeds inside which is where most of the heat is held. Add 3 Tbsp of olive oil to a pan and fry the crushed chili for a minute or so. You may notice the oil changing colour. This is because the oils from the chili are being released.
Finally, add the tomato mixture and simmer for 10 minutes so the flavours can combine and the sauce can reduce a bit. To season, add a pinch of black pepper and 3 pinches of sea salt. This recipe will make 2 cups of sauce once finished.
Mexican Salsa Roja
5 ripe roma tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 small shallot onion
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 dried, crushed chile de árbol
salt and pepper
1. On medium heat, and on a cast iron pan, char tomatoes, onion and garlic by turning every few minutes so all sides are even.
2. After about 20 minutes, remove ingredients.
3. Blend the ingredients together so there are no chunks.
4. In a frying pan, fry the chili in the oil for a few minutes.
5. Add the tomato sauce.
6. Bring the sauce to a boil.
7. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
8. Season with salt and pepper.
Protein 2.9 g