A Guide to Classic Salsas


A Guide to Classic Salsas

How much do you know about salsa? Nope, we’re not talking about the secrets to strutting your stuff on the dance floor. Today’s guide is meant to get your taste buds tingling by educating you on a variety of classic salsas of the culinary variety.

If you think that salsa is something in a jar that you unscrew and serve with tortilla chips, then you’re selling yourself short. There’s so much more to salsa than the chunky red stuff you buy in the grocery store. From classic pico de gallo to crave-worthy salsa verde to the unique salsa negra, there are plenty of types of salsa that you should add to your “to do” list.

What is salsa?

(Source: Libre Mexican Cantina Facebook page)

Let’s back up for a moment. In the odd event that you’re not sure what salsa actually is, let’s take a moment to get you up to speed.

“Salsa”, translated from Spanish, simply means “sauce”. As such, salsa refers to a fairly broad variety of sauces/condiments/toppings. In English-speaking countries, salsa is usually meant to refer to the types of sauces which in Mexican cookery would be known as “salsas picantes”–you know, the types used as dips for chips. But the term “salsa” really does cover much bigger territory.

It might be tempting to get confused about what is salsa and what is not right about now. But don’t despair: now, we’ll take the time to educate you on some key types of salsa, so that you can not only seem smart when going out to eat at Mexican restaurants, but also so that you can open your horizons to try delicious new things.

At Libre, we offer a number of naturally gluten-free house-made salsa varieties which are perfect for dipping, topping, and more. They include a roasted tomatillo, a roasted tomato, and a chili arbol variety. You’ll get to know those ingredients better as you scan through this list.

10 types of salsa you should know

Here are ten different types of salsa that you might encounter in Mexican cooking which are worth getting to know. No, it’s not every type of salsa in the world, but it’s certainly a good start.

1. Pico de gallo: You’ve probably seen this type of salsa before. It translates as “rooster’s beak”, though there isn’t one clear explanation for the name. The key attribute of this type of salsa is that it’s uncooked. This means that raw, uncooked chopped tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and other flavorings are combined and served, just like that. The texture is a bit “chunkier” than some other cooked salsa, but when made well and fresh, this type of salsa zings to life. Salsa cruda is sometimes used interchangeably with the term pico de gallo.

2. Salsa brava: This is an assertively but usually not mouth-singingly spicy sauce. It’s made with a puree of tomato, garlic, onion, and vinegar. It’s often famously paired with the classic tapas dish patatas bravas, in which crispy, sophisticated home-fry like potatoes are served with a generous drizzling of the stuff.

3. Salsa criolla: Popular particularly in South America, this type of salsa has a base of sliced onions which are accompanied by cilantro, vegetables, and seasonings. Visually, it can resemble a mayonnaise-free cole slaw–but visually is where that association ends. This allium-rich side is often served alongside meat. Be sure to pack some mints if you’re enjoying this unique salsa!

4.  Salsa negra. This translates as “black sauce”, which refers to the literally almost black hue of the finished salsa. That unique color is attained in a number of ways, but often by frying chiles then letting them cool and puréeing them with and spice mixture. It’s a “secret sauce” that makes anything it touches come alive with smoky flavor.

5. Salsa ranchera. While it translates as “ranch sauce”, it has nothing to do with the creamy stuff in which you’d dip crudites or buffalo wings. The “ranch” in question refers more to a homestyle approach and style in this case. Salsa ranchera is made using roasted tomatoes, chiles, and spices. What differentiates this salsa is that it’s cooked, and  typically served warm.

6. Salsa roja: AKA “red sauce”, you’ve probably seen this type of salsa before. It’s typically served as a condiment/topping, and includes tomatoes, chili, onion, garlic, cilantro, and possibly other seasonings, which are cooked and then puréed for a smoky, irresistible flavor.

7. Salsa taquera: Translated as “taco sauce”, this is a famous sauce, particularly in Mexico. It often features chiles de arbol, tomatoes, garlic, and salt; other flavorings or seasonings may be included, too. It’s a particularly spicy salsa, but smooth in texture thanks to puréeing.

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8. Salsa verde: Also known as “green sauce” or “green salsa”, salsa verde is usually made with cooked tomatillos, which give it a signature pea green hue. Zing it up with cilantro and spices and it can be served as an alternative (or companion) to tomato-based salsas, although it really does taste good on just about everything.

9. Mango salsa: It’s easy to forget that tomatoes are a fruit, because they are so often used in savory applications. There’s no forgetting that mango is a fruit, though! A typical mango salsa might include fresh fruit, cilantro, onions, garlic, jalapeno, and any number of other seasonings. It tastes great with light, fresh dishes like fish tacos, but can be enjoyed with richer dishes or tortilla chips, too. Pineapple salsa is another popular variant of this type of salsa.

10. Corn salsa: Corn salsa is fairly similar to pico de gallo, but employs corn instead of (or sometimes, in addition to) tomatoes. A little bit heartier than a tomato-based salsa, corn salsa seemingly straddles the line between salsa and side dish.

Conclusion: As you can see, the term “salsa” applies to much more than a single substance. There’s so much flavor to be discovered within these traditional Mexican sauces, it practically boggles the mind. Come and sample the many types of salsa that we offer at Libre Mexican Cantina and tell us which one is your favorite!

How many of these types of salsa have you tried?