Keeping it hot

So, I've been so busy lately that it's hard to know which project to tell you about first. I've been sewing, cooking, and trying to keep the garden alive in this heat. 113° in the shade is not helpful for tomatoes or cucumbers, but for some odd reason the jalapeño plants are in overdrive. This leads me to one of my new favorite things to cook: Salsa Doña.  

We were in Dallas earlier this year and ate at a small fast food place called Pollo Regio. We ordered takeout tacos to take back to our hotel, and based on internet reviews asked for extra green sauce. I'm so glad we did! We got back to our hotel and discovered Heaven!

Pork Tacos Pastor from Pollo Regio (apologies for the image quality - cell phone in a dark hotel room)

So looking at this sauce, I was thinking what you probably are now. There must be avocados in it. There must be sour cream or some other dairy. There must be jalapeños. I searched the web and found this website, from Australia of all places, where the author breaks down a lot of Tex-Mex recipes. Now, he gets a little weird, what with washing the jalapeños with soap and using a blowtorch to scorch them, but it’s a place to start. No avocados, no dairy, just hot jalapeño goodness! 

First you start out with a big batch of large jalapeño peppers. Store bought are ok. I started out with 24 for this batch, which yielded just about 2 cups of sauce. I promise that you will want more of the sauce than what you will make so err on the side of more is better. 24 jalapeños seems to be a manageable number on the grill though.

I’ve made this several times now and find that cutting the peppers open and de-seeding before grilling makes for an easier and quicker time at the grill and also less trouble later. Also, I don’t fire up the grill for just these peppers. I make them when I know I will grill something else. There are two stops in this recipe where you can pause and throw it in the freezer to finish up later, so use the grill when it’s already hot, and don’t stress that it all has to be done at once.

Jalapeño peppers surrounding ribs heating/smoking on the grill

So you put the peppers on the grill, skin side down. Give them some time, but keep an eye on them too. We’re looking for blackened, blistered skin, but you don’t want the actual flesh to be charred. Depending on your grill's hot spots, etc. you may need to shift some of the peppers around while cooking and some will be done before others. As they blacken, move the peppers to a bowl or container with a lid or plastic wrap. These few minutes in the bowl are going to let the peppers steam and cook a little and also loosen their skin. Once all the peppers are done give them about 5 minutes in this sauna.

If you have left the peppers whole you have a little handle to hold while you use a paring knife to scrape the skins off, but you will also have to open them up to get out the seeds and membranes. If you removed the seeds and membranes first, while they were firm and easy to scrape out, all you have to scrape off is the skins. There will be spots of skin that didn’t get charred and won’t peel off, but don’t get too uptight about that as long as it’s just spots. If the spots are too big, your sauce will have chunks of skin though, so run them back out to the grill if it’s still going, or toast them over a burner on the stove.

Peeling the peppers using a backwards scrape with a paring knife

At this point it is just fine to put these in a bag or container in the fridge or freezer to deal with later. If you do, mix them up with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil to protect them from the cold. Just remember to subtract this amount of oil at the end. 

Peeled peppers

The next step is when things get fun (and yummy!). The sauce is an emulsion, basically like making mayonnaise. You need a blender for this step. A food processor will not work for this, and a stick blender won’t quite whip it up. I have not personally tried a hand mixer, but it might work if you pre-chop the jalapeños and garlic. 

If you’re a garlic girl like me, you will want 3-5 peeled cloves of garlic. According to John, normal people like 1-2 cloves for this amount of peppers. I leave that to your own taste. Take the center out of the blender lid and toss in the garlic while it’s running to pre-chop it.

Stop the blender and add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil and all the peppers. Pulse for a few seconds at a time to chop up the peppers and get them ready to liquefy. At this point measure between 1/3 and 1/2 cup of vegetable oil into a pourable cup. Turn the blender on and pour the oil in a slow and steady stream through the center of the lid just until everything really starts to liquefy. Stop adding oil at this point.

Turn the blender up to near the highest setting and let it run for about 30 seconds to really become smooth. Open the lid and take a look. If it’s not smooth (no chunks of garlic or pepper skin), you will repeat the process with a little more oil. There is a balance between just mashed up peppers and a sauce that’s more oil than pepper. That’s where you want to be. More oil will make a thinner sauce, but it also obviously adds calories, and you could reach an over saturation point.

Once you are satisfied with the consistency of the sauce, add about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and blend again. If the peppers aren’t hot enough or you're just really freaky, you could add some cayenne pepper or habañero (green) sauce. Today I also discovered that some people put cottage cheese in the sauce during the blending stage to tame super-hot peppers. I do not intend to try that. Why mess up a perfect thing?

I use this sauce on everything: chicken enchiladas, pork tacos, chips, fingers. I’ve been dying to try it for some umph in guacamole, but haven’t seen a good price on decent avocadoes in ages.

Shredded chicken begging for Salsa Doña! So yummy! At this point, the sauce can be packed up and frozen for later use. You can put it in 1 cup freezer jars like I use or do the whole “ice cube tray for perfect portions” thing. Either way, thaw it out when ready to use and enjoy!