Salsa is the top-selling condiment in the U.S., outselling ketchup and mustard. While there are plenty of salsas available in a range of flavors from hot and wild to sweet and mild, very few stand out in reviews as truly good. We’ve identified three salsas that reviewers say are worth dipping into.
In blind taste tests, salsa varieties by Desert Pepper Trading Co. are top-rated more often than any other brand. Reviewers are especially impressed by Desert Pepper’s sophisticated ingredients and blends of flavors (a particular favorite of gourmet publications is the Corn, Black Bean, Roasted Red Pepper variety). At $5 for a 16-oz. jar, however, Desert Pepper is significantly more expensive than highly rated salsa from Green Mountain Gringo and Pace, and not everyone is fond of flavors like raspberry chipotle or pineapple.
By Dan Kois|Updated Tuesday, March 15, 2005, at 6:02 PM ET
I blame March Madness for a range of unusual behavior that I exhibit this time of year, from sudden mood swings to an irrational obsession with RPI. I also become a salsa fiend, and like many NCAA enthusiasts, most salsa I consume comes straight from a jar. Who has time to chop up a pile of vegetables when one must focus with laserlike intensity on rooting for a North Carolina championship?
The problem, of course, is mass-produced salsa’s astounding lack of flavor, due largely to the abuse that vegetables endure to get from field to jar. The tomatoes, for example, are washed, blasted with hot steam, sliced, diced, reheated, and cooled. They’re then mixed with dehydrated onions, flash-frozen jalapeño peppers, and other similarly maltreated vegetables. That mixture is heated, jarred, steamed, sealed, and finally, cooled. While homemade salsa marries the pure flavors of ingredients like peppers, cilantro, tomatoes, onions, and lime, mass-produced salsa is uniform, generic, and bland.
The jalapeños contribute significantly to jarred salsa’s vapid flavor; they’re specially bred to be 10 times milder than virginal chili peppers. Chili pepper heat is measured on the Scoville scale, a spice index developed by John Scoville, an early 20th-century chemist. While fresh jalapeños measure about 3,000 on the Scoville scale, “mild” salsas measure between 25 and 50, and “hot” salsas measure about 250. Rather than increase spice by adding natural chili peppers, salsa companies add minute doses of an ingredient called capsaicin, which amplifies the heat but offers no gustatory benefit.
Armed with this knowledge of jarred salsa’s origins, my wife and I embarked on a search for that ever-elusive zestiness in a jar. We invited over seven friends, salsa lovers all, to join us in a 12-salsa tournament challenge.
Methodology I marked 12 bowls with the letters A through L and filled each with a salsa. Tasters were offered several brands of plain tortilla chips. No tasty flavored chips were allowed, to ensure results were based on salsa alone. (Click here for our unscientific ranking of chip quality.) Double-dipping was allowed, even encouraged.
Testers gave each salsa an overall “Salsa Score” on a scale of 1 (inedible) to 10 (delightfully zesty), assessing flavor, texture, and enjoyability—independent of a tester’s heat preference. At the end of the tasting, I averaged each product’s score and awarded a quarter-point bonus for each time a salsa was named one of a tester’s three favorites. Testers also rated each salsa’s heat index on a scale of 1 (water) to 10 (¡lengua en fuego!).
The 12 salsas were split into two regionals: the Dean & DeLuca Regional, for gourmet salsas, and the Safeway Regional, for standard salsas. Salsas were seeded according to price and class; hence, in the Safeway Regional, Newman’s Own—pricier than most, with several Oscars to its name—was seeded No.1, while lowly Tostitos salsa was seeded No. 6.
The Salsabol is a hand-crafted ceramic bowl which features a unique, spill-proof lip that pushes your salsa or dip back onto your chip!
The Salsabol comes in three colors, Sunburst Yellow, Matador Red, and Mojito Green. Each bowl holds just under a standard 16oz jar of salsa (the scientifically-proven perfect amount for hosting parties). They are microwave and dishwasher safe.
Grilled Pizza.....Two Olive Salsa as a sassy base, topped with fresh Mozzarella, basil, and grilled chicken.
This technique, grilling a pizza, is just about the best and only way to cook a pizza. Fresh or a store bought frozen pizza takes on a new life and smokey flavor by grilling. There are tons of techniques on line on how to do this. So, I am going to spare you that one. Look up “grilled pizza” very cool U-Tube videos out there. I like to use our Two Olive Garlic salsa for the base sauce. To that I add some or all of the following: grilled chicken, grilled sausages, chopped or sauteed onions, really, its a blank canvass…..get after it!
Now, in the salsa/pepper world…HOT means HOT…..XXX, kicks butt!…..I really love this salsa. It’s bright, sunny, full of flavor and really has enough heat to “get-er-done”. XXX makes an amazing addition to fresh mashed up avocados for guacamole (be sure to squeeze in some lime juice). I like to add in fresh diced mangoes, pineapple, or ripe peaches….this really takes XXX right over the top. Love to know your thoughts and ideas……
XXX BLOODY MARY….or ‘THE CURE”
Basically at this point in your life you gotta know how to make a damn good, right from scratch, Bloody Mary. I got to tell you that this concoction of mine will fix you up just right. Virgin or the busted-cherry version….its a blessing. Once again, no real recipe here..just my natty little technique. It goes like this: in an anxiously awaiting blender filled with bottled tomato juice add: 1/2 bottle XXX Habanero Salsa, puree till very smooth. Transfer to a large glass pitcher and go for it. Splash in: lime juice, a little orange juice (secret ingredient), Worcestershire Sauce, horseradish…..yum. Oh, don’ forget the vodka or tequila. Now, I am a fond user of Clamato Juice…I think it’s about the perfect base (msg and food color makes it better! LMAO)……
White Bean Dip..the taste of Tuscany. Smooth, cool, and a blank canvas. It’s just great out of the bottle…warmed or cold. I really like to take this dip and jazz it up. Stir in roasted red peppers, pitted olives, capers, pesto, more garlic, sun dried tomatoes, hot red chile flakes, any fresh herb you can think of…its an amazing canvas to work from. Serve it with toasted baguette slices (rub with a little olive oil before toasting or grilling), pita chips are super scoopers, or right from the bag blue corn chips.
BAKED WHITE BEAN, SPINACH AND ARTICHOKE DIP
Artichoke Bean Dip
Clearly, this is my take on the classic spinach artichoke dip. Again, this jazzes up pronto..add roasted red peppers, more of everything, stir it all up…and impress the hell out of your guests. Oh, my mom likes to add chopped drained Chinese water chestnuts for that “crunch” factor.
2 jars DESERT PEPPER WHITE BEAN DIP
1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (15 ounce can) baby artichoke heart OR bottled artichoke hearts (drain oil or water)
Pre heat oven to 350. Mix all the above ingredients in a bowl, pour into a ceramic baking dish, top with more Parmesan cheese or mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Serve with toasted pita chips, crostini or blue corn chips.
What can I say about the perfect plate of nachos? This dish totally embodies everything I love about Mexican Food….even trashy bar Nachos are killer good!….this recipe is a cool twist on the macho-nacho. Cold shrimp “salsa” on a hot crispy tortilla…..by the way, this is a great dish to take out to the grill….just add margs and amigos…..call me too!
1 carton FRESH chuncky pico de gallo – or homemade
1 LB. cooked shrimp, shells and tail removed, diced up (scallops, and bay shrimp are good here too)
juice of 1 lime
a kiss of tequila
dash of salt
*stir in some avocado chunks, diced mango…its all good
in a non-reactive bowl, mix all the above, cover and chill
Spread DESERT PEPPER BLACK BEAN OR PINTO BEAN dip on a sturdy tortilla chip, sprinkle with shredded cheese, pop under the broiler (or on the grill), warm through and melt the cheese…..top with the shrimp “salsa”, eat and repeat.
In Texas, we call this dip mess “train wreck” for the obvious reason. This dip comes together super fast, all the ingredients are available “store bought”. This is kind of like nachos without the base of chips….7 layer dip is a total staple (and party emergency food) in my casa….It dresses up really well with more ingredients and is welcome in the scruffy version too boot. Serve cold right from the icebox!
Ingredients and secret technique:
All righty…we are gonna start with the first layer (or bottom layer) and work our way up to heaven! In a glass pie plate (that’s right you heard me) build this! Artistic license granted to you!
1. a huge thick layer of Pinto Bean Dip (2 bottles)…Black Bean Dip also good here…
2. Taco Meat or grilled chicken (lots) store bought meats are cool and easy
3. Guacamole…I like salsa guacamole (see recipe)
4. diced fresh super red tomatoes
5. sliced drained mission black olives, from the can
6. sour cream
7. cheddar cheese or jalapeno jack (more fun)
Stack ‘er up, don’t be chinchey on any ingredient, serve with warmed tortilla chips, cervesa and amigos!