Tue May 4, 2010
How I love to lament the state of Mexican and Tex-Mex in NYC. Seriously, it's pretty atrocious. Luckily, being married to a Texan, I get my fair share of the good stuff throughout the year, but while not under those big, bright shining stars, Mexican is almost strictly a home cooking venture. Besides a few of the more authentic Mexican joints near my office in NY, I rarely ever see tomatillo salsa—which is always served right next to the red stuff in TX—and that's a down right shame. This is like the crack of salsas—once you have some, it's pretty futile to ever try to get yourself off of it.
If you're not familiar with the tomatillo, it's about time you two start getting cozy. Although they kind of look and sound like a green tomato, tomatillos are actually part of the nightshade family and related to cape gooseberries. They're easily recognized by the papery green husk surrounding the fruit. When picking tomatillos, the husk and fruit should be a healthy looking green, and the fruit itself should be firm. I like to peel back the husks a little when picking them myself—you never know what may be lurking beneath...damage, worms, mold. They have a tart flavor and usually fare best as the base for sauces and salsas, where you can cut the tartness with other flavors.
Green is as green does in this salsa. The tomatillos created the green base, while cilantro and jalapeños added some darker green accents. Garlic and white onions rounded out the the list of the ingredients. It may be a short and simple recipe, but the flavors it delivered is anything but.
This is where the grill took its deserved place in the process. Taking the tomatillos to the flames gave them a new depth that they wouldn't have had used completely fresh. The heat created a nice little crust that brought a little sweetness and slight char along with the tart.
When sufficiently squishy soft, the tomatillos were done on the grill and ready to be given a whirl in the blender with the garlic, jalapeños, cilantro, and a little water to thin the constancy. Pulsed until a good balance between chunky and smooth was reached, all that was needed was a little salt and sugar to get the balance of flavors just perfect.
And there it sits, such a masterpiece of salsa goodness. A complex mix of tart, sweet, and spicy...just waiting for the proper chip vessel to bring it from bowl to mouth. I've already made a double recipe for my Cinco de Mayo shindig, and I bet after trying this out for yourself, it won't be long until you're making it again and again.
Grilled Tomatillo Salsa
Adapted from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless.
8 ounces husked, rinsed, and halved tomatillos
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1 jalapeño or 2 serrano chiles, stemmed and roughly chopped
1/3 cup (loosely packed) roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup water
1. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals out evenly over the charcoal grate. Clean and lightly oil the cooking grate. Place tomatillo halves on the grill, cut side down. Grill until browned and they begin to soften. Flip and continue to cook until completely softened. Remove the tomatillos to the work bowl of a blender or food processor. Let cool to room temperature.
2. Add garlic, chiles, cilantro, and 1/4 cup of water to the bowl and pulse until coarsely pureed. Pour salsa into a small dish and stir in the onion. Thin the salsa out with more water if necessary. Taste and add sugar if the salsa is too tart. Season with salt to taste.