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Serious Salsa: Chile Morita Salsa

Now, you might think bringing salsa to a barbecue seems out of place. But this wasn't just any barbecue--we were going to be serving barbacoa, which in Texas means slow-smoked cow head. (I could go into the details on how to smoke a cow's head, but we're here to talk about salsas, so we'll save that discussion for another time and place.)

So what types of salsas go best with the tender, juicy stings of meat that come from the head of a cow? I place my preference firmly in the smoky-red category, which the morita chile generously provides.

A morita chile may sound exotic, but it's just a smoked jalapeño, much like a chipotle but smaller and more fiery. The morita is red, as are chipotles. And if you're wondering why they are red when jalapeños are commonly green, it's because if a jalapeño is left on the vine long enough it will eventually turn red, much like tomatoes start out green and then turn red.

You buy your moritas dry, which means they need to be rehydrated. Before I soak them in water, however, I like to toast them on a dry cast-iron skillet. This always gets me in the mood for barbecue, since as the chiles cook the kitchen begins to smell like a smokehouse filled with the heady aroma of mesquite.

Proceed with caution when eating this salsa--yes, it lights up your mouth upon entry, but you'll soon see that after the initial spark it swiftly cools down to a slow simmer. I find that this salsa is excellent on smoked meat. It's also a fine chip-dipping sauce, it livens up scrambled eggs, and I've even been known to slather some on a brisket before slow roasting, as this salsa really excels with beef.

Adapted from a recipe given to me by Maura Hernandez

About the author: Lisa Fain is a seventh-generation Texan who now hangs her hat in New York City. To keep in touch with her roots, she writes and photographs the food blog Homesick Texan.

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