Salsa on the CoalsSteven Raichlen
This salsa looks cool as all get-out as you prepare it (your guests will be amazed to see tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños burning away on the embers) and the resulting smoke flavors are as gutsy as you could wish for. Sorry gas-grillers; for the full effect, you need charcoal for this one.
Salsa on the Coals
- Yield: Makes about 1 1⁄2 cups; serves 4 to 6
- Method: Grilling in the Embers
- Equipment: A charcoal grill; natural lump charcoal or wood chunks (optional)
- 2 to 4 jalapeño peppers
- 4 medium-size very ripe tomatoes or large plum tomatoes (1 to 1 1 ⁄2 pounds total)
- 1 poblano pepper
- 1 small onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea), or more to taste
- 1 canned chipotle chile, minced
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or more to taste
- Tortilla chips, for serving
Step 1: Light charcoal or wood chunks in a chimney starter. When the coals glow red, dump them into the bottom of the grill and rake them into an even layer. Let burn until the coals begin to ash over, 5 to 10 minutes.
Step 2: Place the jalapeños, tomatoes, poblano, and onion directly on the coals. Cook until charred black on the outside, about 1 minute per side (2 to 3 minutes in all) for the jalapeños, 1 to 2 minutes per side (3 to 6 minutes in all) for the tomatoes and poblano, and 2 to 3 minutes per side (6 to 9 minutes in all) for the onion. Turn the vegetables with long-handled tongs to ensure even cooking. Transfer the charred vegetables to an aluminum foil pan or heatproof plate and let cool.
Step 3: Using a pastry brush, brush any ash or cinders off the vegetables. Scrape the seeds out of the jalapeños unless you want a really fiery salsa. Scrape the burnt skin off the poblano, and then seed and core it. There are three ways to chop the vegetables: You can grind them in a large molcajete, you can coarsely chop them by hand, or you can coarsely chop them in a food processor. If using a molcajete or food processor, quarter the vegetables first. I like coarsely chopped vegetables (1/4-inch pieces), but you can chop them more finely if you like.
Step 4: Place the garlic and salt in the bottom of an attractive nonreactive serving bowl and mash to a paste with the back of a spoon. Add the charred vegetables, chipotle, cilantro, and lime juice and stir to mix. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or lime juice as necessary; the salsa should be highly seasoned. Serve with tortilla chips.
Mexicans would prepare the salsa using a molcajete, a lava stone mortar and pestle. You can also chop the vegetables by hand or use a food processor.
For the best results, use natural lump charcoal or even wood for your fire. If you have a gas grill, you’ll have to settle for charring the vegetables on the grate. The results will be perfectly tasty, but not quite as stunning as the live coal method.
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