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Sidebar -- "Salsa Without Tears", October 1996

Essential Roasted Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa

Salsa de Chile Chipotle y Tomate Verde

THESE ARE THE MOST attractive salsa flavors I know: tangy (almost citrusy) from the tomatillos, smoky and hot from the chipotles and sweetly aromatic from the roasted garlic. Add anything else but salt (and a pinch of sugar if the tartness of your tomatillos seems to be prominent) and you're gilding a naturally perfect lily. I just love this salsa.

Unlike salsas that have lots of raw ingredients, this one can be kept for days in the refrigerator. As you approach the final step of this simple salsa, you can choose whether you like the rusty-colored, fully integrated flavors of the smoother version, or the olive-colored, flecked with red, rougher-looking version that'll offer surprise bursts of chipotle in every mouthful. When you have the time, try a third alternative in the mortar, crushing together the garlic and chiles, then working in the tomatillos; the garlic and chiles will be noticeably richer and fuller, the texture of the tomatillos beautifully coarse.


  • 3 to 6 (1/4 to 1/2 ounce total) dried chiles chipotles colorados (chiles moritas)
      OR 2 to 4 (1/4 to 1/2 ounce total) dried chiles chipotles mecos
      OR 3 to 6 canned chiles chipotles en adobo
  • 3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 8 ounces (5 to 6 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon
  • Sugar, about 1/4 teaspoon

1. Toasting and roasting the key ingredients. Set an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat. If using dried chiles, break off their stems. Toast the chiles a few at a time: Lay them on the hot surface, press flat for a few seconds with a metal spatula (they'll crackle faintly and release their smoky aroma), then flip and press down to toast the other side. Transfer the toasted chiles to a bowl, cover with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure even soaking. Pour off all the water and discard.

If using canned chiles, simply remove them from the adobo they're packed in.

On a heavy, ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat (you'll already have it on if you're using dried chiles), roast the unpeeled garlic, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots and soft, about 15 minutes. Cool, slip off the papery skins, then roughly chop.

Lay the tomatillos on a baking sheet and place about 4 inches below a very hot broiler. When the tomatillos blister, blacken, and soften on one side, about 5 minutes, turn them over and roast the other side. Cool completely on the baking sheet.

2. The salsa. Method 1 (the smoother alternative): Scrape the tomatillos (and any juices that have accumulated around them) into a food processor or blender and add the rehydrated or canned chiles and garlic. Pulse the machine until everything is thick and relatively smooth. Method 2 (the chunkier alternative): Scrape the tomatillos and juices into a food processor or blender and add the garlic. Pulse until everything is coarsely pureed. Chop the rehydrated or canned chiles into tiny bits, then stir them in.

Transfer to a serving bowl and stir in enough water, usually 3 to 4 tablespoons, to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency. Taste and season with salt, plus a little sugar to soften the tangy edge.

ADVANCE PREPARATION -- The finished salsa will keep about 1 week in the refrigerator, though the tomatillos have the brightest flavor for the first 24 hours.

OTHER CHILES YOU CAN USE -- Dried árbol (use 3 to 6) or cascabel (use 2 to 3) can replace the chipotles. Dried chile pasilla oaxaqueño taste delicious here (use 1 to 3) if you can lay your hands on them.


Crusty Chipotle-Beef Sandwich -- Marinate very thinly cut (minute) steaks (bistec in Mexico) with lime juice and salt, then sear them in a large very hot lightly oiled pan or on a grill. Slice into thin strips and, in a pan over medium heat, toss with enough salsa to coat nicely. Split crusty submarine rolls or Mexican teleras, hollow them out slightly, then pile in the meat and sprinkle with crumbled Mexican queso añejo or Parmesan. I love these sandwiches with a smear of leftover fried black beans on the bun.

Great Chicken Livers -- For 4 people, rinse a generous pound of chicken livers, pat dry, then toss with a little salted flour. In a large hot heavy skillet filmed with oil or bacon fat, fry the livers in an uncrowded layer until crusty and still pink in the center. Pour in a full recipe of the salsa, let come to a boil, then serve with rice or pasta.

Copyright © 1996 by Rick Bayless. All rights reserved.
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