May 9, 2021

🥘 Frying Salsa Intensifies the Flavor

Learn how to make salsa more flavorful and versatile.

I remember visiting the Iowa State Fair as a child with my family. The smell of fried food is hard to forget. And the creativity shown at the food stands has been a big source of inspiration for me as a cook.

So today let’s talk about frying your salsa. The basic formula is this: (1) make a salsa (2) mix with powdered gelatin (3) refrigerate until firm (4) coat in flour (5) drop in 350°F (175°C) hot oil and (6) I’m totally kidding. 😉 We aren’t deep frying salsa today. 😆 Just normal frying it. And confession #2. I’ve never been to the Iowa State Fair. 🤥

What is Frying Your Salsa?

“Frying” salsa is a technique I learned from the folks at Milk Street who learned it in Oaxaca. Mexican cooks use it as a way to intensify flavor and thicken the texture of a salsa or mole.

Here’s how to fry salsa (for real this time). Grab a smooth, not chunky salsa. Homemade or store-bought will do. Pre-heat a wide pan over medium-high heat. Add a touch of oil and then pour in your salsa. You want a vigorous sizzle as the salsa hits the pan. And let it bubble. Stir as needed so the sauce doesn’t burn, but a little bit of stickage and change of color is a good thing. That’s extra flavor. 😋

I let the salsa reduce by a quarter to a half when I fry it. But the best way to know it’s done is to run a spoon through it. If you can see the bottom of the pan for a second or so before the salsa fills it in, it’s probably ready. But taste it to be sure!

So what’s going on here? Frying salsa is all about transformation. First, it’s a reduction. As the sauce cooks, water evaporates. You’re left with a more concentrated flavor and thicker sauce. Second, you’re applying heat to create flavor. It’s the same idea as browning meat, tomato paste, or even veggies.

Homemade salsa is easier than you think. It’s practically a vegetable smoothie. Take a pound of tomatoes or tomatillos and blend them with a spicy pepper or two, half an onion, and a couple of garlic cloves. Then add a touch of salt and squeeze of lime. Taste it. And then add extra peppers or tomatoes depending on the flavor you want. For a deep roasted flavor, char your veggies first in a pan or under the broiler. Or skip the roasting to keep it really fresh tasting. 🍅

When Do You Fry Your Salsa?

Fry your salsa when you want your salsa to take a bigger role on the plate.

In last week’s newsletter, we talked about how a dish is made up of the (1) foundation (2) counterpoint, and (3) embellishments. The foundation is your noodles. They make up most of the dish. The counterpoint is the stir-fried veggies that give crunchy contrast and freshness to the noodles. And the embellishments are the squeeze of sriracha and toasted sesame seeds added at the end to enhance the dish.

Salsa is often an embellishment for tacos. It’s added at the end for extra flavor and moisture. But sometimes you want the salsa to be more central to the final dish. Frying it takes it from embellishment to counterpoint.

Take a simple chicken breast. You sear it in a pan and then while the chicken rests (learn more about resting meat) use the same pan to fry some salsa. Once “fried”, a simple salsa can stand up to a chicken breast. It has a robust flavor, and a thicker consistency which makes sure it clings to the chicken instead of pooling around it.

Here are more ideas on when to fry salsa:

  • When making enchiladas, I used a “fried salsa” in the filling. The salsa’s thicker texture makes sure things don’t get mushy.
  • When a homemade salsa seems like it needs something else. Frying will make it more flavorful.
  • When you want a sauce for roasted vegetables. I fry salsa before adding it to roasted zucchini and corn. You get a flavorful sauce that won’t turn your veggies soggy.
  • When you want to take a simple side of beans to the next level. Stir in fried salsa to add flavor without fear of watering it down.