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
- 2 dried chile moritas
- 1 pound of tomatillos, husks removed
- 1 clove of garlic, unpeeled and cut in half
- Salt to taste
Take the moritas and cook them in a hot dry cast-iron skillet until they inflate and start to pop a little (about two minutes). Into the cast-iron skillet, pour water over the chiles and allow them to soften and become plumper, which will take about half an hour.
Meanwhile, stir the whole tomatillos in another skillet until they blister and black spots appear. Immediately transfer them to a blender. Place the garlic, moritas and a pinch of salt in the blender, and puree until smooth. It will be a deep red color with lots of seeds.
Note: You can find dried moritas at most Mexican grocery stores. If you are unable to find them, you can use chipotle chiles. If the chipotles are dry, follow the same instructions as for the moritas. But if they are canned and packed in adobo sauce, then forgo the frying and re-hydrating and just add them to the blender along with the other ingredients.