SOL's Habanero Salsa
Why do people like spicy food? I mean, aside from you chileheads, who eat it for the rush. You’re endorphin addicts.
At SOL I use chiles to add taste and enhance the other flavors in food. To me, the natural ‘heat’ of a chile is a seasoning like salt. It makes sweet sweeter, rounds out citrus, cuts the richness of cheese, or pork, and adds another dimension to the experience of a dish. Heat always has to be balanced with other flavors. I don’t like eat something so hot that it blows my head off and destroys my ability to taste.
For years, if I wanted to add a shot of intense heat to food, the bright orange habanero was the go-to chile – exponentially hotter than cayenne or serranos, with lip-blistering chemical intensity. (Though to a true heat addict, habaneros barely move the dial. There are much hotter chiles to torment yourself with, and I’ll get to those in a later post.) Ripe habaneros also have flavor – a fruity sweetness as well as heat. Cooking knocks down the heat, as does removing the seeds and ribs. With all that capsaicin grabbing your attention, who can tell that habaneros taste great?
The habanero chile is closely associated with the unique cooking of the Yucatan peninsula, though it and similar chiles (including its kissing cousin the Jamaican scotch bonnet) are used all over the Caribbean – habanero means ‘from Havana’. (Above, chiles outside the market in Merida, Yucatan.)
Surprise number one: in the Yucatan, the usual Mexican chiles, such as jalapenos, serranos or dried chiles are rarely seen. Instead, Yucatecan cooks use green habanero chiles. In two weeks in the peninsula, the only ripe orange habaneros I saw were a patented variety being grown on a corporate farm for export to markets outside Mexico.
Surprise number two: green habaneros are no spicier than a good serrano chile, and they have a really distinctive flavor. However, the only way to get green habaneros is to grow them yourself. The further north you are, the milder they will be, unless you grow them at high altitude, but they will maintain their great flavor.
Roasted green habanero salsa, Merida, Yucatan
Green habanero salsa with onions and lime juice, Merida, Yucatan
Ceviche with green habanero, cabbge, onions and lime juice, Merida, Yucatan
SOL COCINA’S ‘TOO HOT FOR DANNY’ HABANERO SALSA
This salsa is very hot, but it also tastes great, playing up the fruity sweetness of habaneros. Serve with grilled chicken tacos, pork pibil, or on sautéed shrimp, and it is fantastic with grilled salmon! I actually set out to make a salsa that was too hot even for our prep cook Danny Esparza, who can eat just about anything without flinching. It did my heart good to see a stricken expression cross his face when he tasted it. So don’t eat it from a spoon. Keeps refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 5 cups.
1 pound habanero chiles
4 cups water
5 tablespoons kosher salt
4 cloves garlic
1 small onion, diced
6 roma tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup Heinz white vinegar
1. Trim the stems from the chiles, but leave the seeds in.
2. Combine the chiles, water, salt, garlic, onion and tomatoes in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the chiles are tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Cool slightly and blend with the cooking water until smooth with visible seeds.(I prefer pulsing in a blender or vita-prep.) Stir in the vinegar. You may want to add more salt after the salsa is cooled.
Note: For a more authentic texture, instead of boiling, roast all ingredients on a comal until softened and grind in a molcajete or food processor, seasoning with salt and vinegar to taste at the end. You will want to do the roasting in a well-ventilated area, or as yucatecos do, on an outside fire.