Recently we did a little work in our kitchen. The big news: We finally retired our beloved hundred-year-old Detroit Jewel gas range. It was a faithful companion for many decades, but it was time to enter the twenty-first century. The Jewel found a new home in Mannilla. Yes, Manilla in the Phillipines. It goes into retirement as a showpiece in a very nice lady’s bake shop and will live out its days being oohed and ahhed over by her customers.
In its place, we got a wonderful new Thermador six-burner range, 18,000 BTU star burners, super-low cyclic simmer, and a huge oven with actual thermostatic control, something the Jewel lacked. We put in some new cabinets, a new powerful vent hood, a bit more counter space and a new pull-down spray faucet. When the time came to install the faucet, I took a look under the sink, thinking I might just do it myself. After all, I read several reviews that said installation on this particular model wasn’t too difficult. Now I can fix a toilet or a leaky faucet, I even know how to solder copper pipe, but one look at the old, funky faucet with its rusted hold-down nut and I said, “Time to call Manny the Uncanny.” For those of you without kids, Manny the Uncanny was a character created by actor Paul Rugg for a kid’s TV show called “Disney Saturday Morning” twenty years ago. He was hilarious. You can find him on YouTube. It was one of Jake’s favorite shows along with Thomas the Tank Engine and of course, Mister Rogers.
Manny is our plumber, and a great guy. He is an uncanny plumber. He does fabulous work and always gives us a very fair price; as a bonus he is very entertaining, delivering a non-stop monologue on a huge diversity of topics. While Manny was on his back under our sink struggling to remove the corroded nut that secured the old faucet, he told us about an upcoming trip north to visit his grandchildren. He mentioned that his kids and grandkids always want him to make a big batch of his salsa whenever he comes. I had started to tune him out but as soon as I heard the word “salsa” my ears immediately perked up. “Salsa?” I asked? “Oh, yeah. I make a tomato kind of salsa with serranos. I don’t roast them or anything, I just throw the ingredients in a pot and boil them.” Now I was intrigued. “Can you tell me the recipe?”, I asked of his legs protruding from under the sink. And so in a voice made hollow by the kitchen cabinet in which he lay, Manny revealed this recipe for his uncannily good salsa.
The lesson here is that you can get a good recipe from anyone, even the most unlooked for source. The more we talk to each other about food and cooking, the more recipes we share with each other and we all become better cooks.
As he said, there is no need to roast any of these ingredients. Although, if you choose to do so, it will lend a smoky flavor. We’ll have a roasted tomato salsa ranchera and a roasted salsa verde up here shortly, but as an introduction to the cooked tomato type of salsa, this is perfect. It doesn’t take any exotic ingredients, just tomatoes, onion, garlic, serrano chiles, and tomatillos. The preparation is very simple and straightforward. As Manny says, just throw the vegetables into a pot and boil ’em.
The tomatillo looks like a small green tomato wrapped in a dry papery husk. They are not green tomatoes, but as a member of the nightshade family, they are related, and are a staple of Mexican cooking. Readily available at any Latino market or large grocery store, tomatillos range in size from one to three inches in diameter. Choose firm, smooth ones about the size of a large walnut or smaller, they are sweeter than their larger brothers. The color can vary from bright green to purple. Don’t get pale or yellowish ones. Remove the papery husk before using and rinse them to wash off the sticky coating. Don’t peel or seed them; they have a white meaty texture inside. You can use them raw or cooked. They are a crucial ingredient for Chile Verde, and are wonderful when roasted. They lend a tangy flavor that melds with the heat of the chiles and the sweetness of the tomato and onion in this recipe.
If you want a hotter salsa, add more chiles or a couple of fresh Habeneros. If you want a milder one, just use fewer. Try it like it is first and adjust your next batch to your own taste and tolerance. This salsa is great on just about everything, as a dip for chips, and makes for a perfect Huevos Rancheros.
Manny’s Uncanny Salsa – Prep time 10 minutes. Cook time 30 minutes. Makes 2 cups of salsa.
4 medium very ripe tomatoes
12 serrano chile peppers
1-2 habanero chiles (optional if you want it really hot)
½ medium yellow or white onion
6 cloves peeled garlic
Cut tomatoes into eights, dice the onion, remove the stems and chop the chiles and garlic. 12 serranos sounds like a huge amount, but the cooking mellows them somewhat, and the whole point of this salsa is hot. I tend not to use the habeneros as we have different heat tolerances in our house. I do have some homemade habenero sauce I can add to my bowl of salsa if I want it hotter, but this is really delicious and perfect just as it is. We are going to puree this later so you don’t need to chop too fine. Put ingredients except for the tomatillos into a 4 quart sauce pan and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes untill the tomatoes soften and begin to fall apart.
I like to use an equal volume of tomatoes to tomatillos. The tomatillos are usually smaller than the tomatoes, so for four tomatoes, I use 6-8 tomatillos. You may need more or fewer depending on their size. While the sauce simmers, remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse under cool water. Cut them into eights. When the tomatoes and onions have softened, add the tomatillos to the pot with a big pinch of salt.
Cover and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the tomatillos and chiles have turned olive-green and the tomatillos are soft throughout. Check by mashing one of them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. It should squish completely.
Carefully transfer the ingredients to a full-sized food processor or blender and process for 5-10 seconds to get a smooth consistency. Don’t over blend, you want some texture to the salsa. Check seasoning and add more salt if you like. Let cool, cover tightly and refrigerate. It keeps for a week in the fridge and freezes perfectly. I usually make a double batch and freeze half of it.
That’s it. Simple, versatile, and delicious. Enjoy.