Thanksgiving has come and gone, and today I’m making salsa with chile piquin to spoon on left-overs of yesterday’s grilled tenderloin of beef. The Thanksgiving tenderloin was incredible. How could it have been otherwise? Organic and range-fed. Grilled on the beach under coconut palms, in sight of the Pacific Ocean. And yes, we were truly grateful to be in paradise, listening to the waves and seabirds. Gracias a Dios.
The salsa recipe is from the Cocino Estado por Estado cookbooklet published by El Universal featuring the state of San Luis Potosí. The photo shows a salsa with a very coarse texture, unlike most salsas which are smoother. The recipe calls for twelve chiles piquin and is called, appropriately, Salsa de Chile Piquin. One piquin (also spelled pequin) is enough to set my mouth on fire. But twelve? Maybe there is a mistake in the recipe. Maybe it should have read, “1-2 chiles piquin“. Maybe the editor was having a bad day.
After I couldn’t find any piquins at the store, I visited my neighbor Guadalupe to ask if she had any. I knew she would, as chile piquin is commonly grown in Mexican home gardens and she has a splendid garden. She proudly showed me her four potted chile plants, and gave me three tiny orange-red chiles. I told her my recipe called for twelve chiles. She made a face of both surprise and warning, waving her hand in front of her open mouth as if cooling a fire. We both agreed that one chile would be plenty. In addition I used three serrano chiles to compensate for the volume of the omitted eleven chiles piquin, and the salsa was muy picante. Unless you like your salsa on fire, just use one serrano and one piquin. It will still be worthy of a fine Mexican table.
Chile piquin is one of the smallest chiles, measuring only 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long (12-19 mm.). In Mexico, it is found growing in home gardens more often than it is seen in stores. In The Great Chile Book by Mark Miller, chile piquin is described as tasting of citrus and corn, with nutty and smoky tones. It is an extremely hot chile, more than making up in heat what it lacks in size. You may not be able to find fresh chile piquin north of the border, but you can order it in dried form from MexGrocer.com. If you use dried chiles, toast them very briefly for only thirty seconds per side, then rehydrate in very hot water.
Stating how much chile to use in a recipe really is a subjective call. The heat level of Mexican salsas varies from being so mild it almost isn’t there to so hot, I can only reach for a cold beer and wonder how I will ever finish my meal. I hope by now you know how much or how little chile you like. If not, it’s time to start experimenting.
Salsa de Chile Piquin makes about 3/4 cup (170 ml.)
- 1 chile piquin and/or 1 serrano chile
- 1 medium tomato
- 3 tomatillos (also known as tomate verde in Mexico), husks removed
- 3 small cilantro sprigs, chopped
- salt to taste
- Place the tomato and chile(s) in an ungreased skillet or on a griddle and blister over medium heat until soft.
- Cook the tomatillos in simmering water until tender, about 10 minutes. Do not overcook, or they will burst.
- When cool enough to handle, seed chiles, remove stems and roughly chop tomato, chile and tomatillo.
- Zizz tomato, chile and tomatillo in a blender, but don’t puree; leave it chunky.
- Add a little water for a thin, spoonable consistency.
- Salt to taste and stir in chopped cilantro.
Note: Thank you to our dear friends L&J for the use of their beach house. Scenes from their paradise…