It doesn’t look like much, but this salsa is the culmination of a significant quest in my life. When I lived in Mexico, there was one little taqueria we would frequent every few weeks, due to it being one of the few restaurants we knew for sure we could trust. Like most Mexican restaurants, each table was adorned with several small bowls of salsa of various flavors and heat levels. Of those little salsas, “the red one” was my favorite, and that’s all I knew. It was simple in flavor, yet had a really intriguing bright/earthy taste, and was at just the level of spiciness to challenge but not overwhelm my gringo sensitivities. I loved it.
After I returned to the States and was eventually learning to cook, I always missed that little salsa and would try to solve the mystery of its origin. I was able to re-create most of the other foods I had enjoyed south of the border: corn tortillas, salsa verde, black beans and eggs; but I could not figure out the little red salsa. I tried several other salsa roja recipes I found, which were delicious, but not quite right.
Then one day, Rachel and I were in a little authentic Mexican restaurant (in Lancaster, PA of all places) and there it was! The same simple, red, kind of spicy sauce that I had been looking for! I immediately asked the lady at the register (in Spanish, of course) what was in it, and she answered “chile guajillo”. Mystery solved.
So yeah, this is it! It’s surprisingly simple; just guajillos, garlic, lime, salt mixed in some water. But you’ll like it. If you’ve never used dried chiles before, guajillos are smooth, light red, and thin skinned; usually about 4-5 inches in length. They smell like dried cherries. Most other chiles are dark, thick, and wrinkled, and have more of an earthy smell: anchos, for example, smell like raisins rather than cherries. You can see guajillos in the picture below.
Try it out! Mexican salsas are often more smooth than American/Tex-Mex ones. I actually could have added more water to the one below, but a few times I’ve overdone it and ended up with a salsa that was too runny and thin. Feel free to check out the salsa recipe I used for reference, or just fiddle with it yourself, but this is a recipe that shines the best when left simple.
I like this best on grilled chicken tacos with fresh corn tortillas, but use it as you wish.
Salsa Roja de Guajillo Recipe
8 medium guajillo chiles
2 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lime (or more)
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 cup water
First, you need to toast, seed, and soak the chiles. You can decide the order: some people have you take the seeds and stem out before toasting, but I usually leave them in at first. Sometimes when you toast the inside skin, it gives off a really potent, acrid, capsaicin-laced smoke that makes everyone cough and get mad at you, so by toasting just the outside of the chile, I avoid having to go through some kind of defensive foodie rant every time I make salsa. Up to you.
On a pan at medium heat, lay out your chiles and press down firmly with a spatula until you can smell their aroma and the skin discolors somewhat. De-seed the chiles, and soak the skins in warm (not boiling) water for 20 minutes or so.
Discard the chile soaking water, and blend the garlic, chiles, salt, and water in a blender until smooth. Add lime juice to taste, and serve!
Feel free to let me know if this salsa seems quest-worthy to you as well. Till next time, foodies!