salsa. (Latin salsa, salted.) fem. Composition or mixture
of several edible substances, diluted, made to dress or season food.
There is no doubt that the above definition
was translated from the Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary. Had it originated in Mexico, the definition would have a lot more
flavor, color and gusto. Diluted, - a Mexican salsa? - Just for dressing and seasoning purposes?
Fuentes Mares used to say that wine is king on the table. Wine does not accompany food: you plan your menu according to the
wine available. Something similar happens regarding Mexican salsas: it is around them that we build that earthly paradise
known as Mexican cooking. A good mole, as any well-bred Mexican knows, possesses the virtue of transforming something so tasteless
as white chicken breast into a real delicacy, worthy enough to be served on the most sophisticated and elegant table.
Salsa is a very significant expression ofculture. Since the dawn of time, we’ve been making efforts to improve
our condition on this Earth; culture is one of the most extraordinary results of this age-old endeavor. In the same way we
seek to dignify and elevate things from their rustic and wild status, to the limits set by our own imagination and resources.
We cannot deny the fact that a good steak, properly grilled, has its virtues. But a well prepared sauce, with all those ingredients
and hidden secrets, patiently and cleverly accumulated through generations, ennobles and redeems meats and fishes that otherwise
would be almost completely worthless.
“Magic potion that adds excellency
to almost everything that Nature presents in its original state, the sauce is so effective that it elevates the category of
what is already good; corrects the insignificance of what is just mediocre, and hides the coarseness of what is bad”.
This quotation from don José Fuentes Mares defines in a very intelligent way the role of sauces in any civilized
Learned people maintain that there are three great cuisines in the world: French,
Chinese and Mexican. Anybody that experiments with this assertion soon discovers that it represents an over-simplification
of reality: there are as many French cuisines as there are provinces in France; there is an extense variety of Chinese cuisines - Hunan, Szechuan, Fujian, Shandong, Anhui, Jiangsu, Beijing; and, of course, there is more than one Mexican cuisine. Excelling among the magnificent, are the marvelous cuisines
from Puebla, Oaxaca and Yucatán.
Nevertheless, a common denominator distinguishes
these great cuisines from the others: the variety, complexity, magnificence, exquisiteness and refinement of their sauces.
The Mexican salsa finds its support and foundation in the vigorous, spirited, vehement, but at the same time sensual
and subtle flavors of the chile. The variety of chiles found in Mexico is amazing: poblano, serrano, pasilla, morita, manzana,
güero - chilpotle, chipotle or chilpocle; chiltepín, piquín, mulato, chileancho, mirasol, chilaca, chilchote,
cuaresmeño, jalapeño, habanero, tornachile, cora, de árbol, cascabel, and a thousand more. In different
regions of Mexico, chiles get different names; and the same chile bears different names if it is dried or in its natural condition.
A very popular, but erroneous belief, is that Mexican salsa, as it contains chile, must be unbearably hot. Nothing farther
from the truth. A reasonably educated diner will never permit an excess of chile to saturate his or her taste buds and other
sensory organs; a healthy balance between flavor and pungentness will always have to be attained in order to fully enjoy the
delights offered by a well prepared salsa.
Basic ingredients of Mexican salsas
are jitomate, or red tomato; onion, garlic, chiles, and cilantro, also known as coriander or Chinese parsley.
Some salsas are based on little green tomatoes, tomatillos, or simply tomates, as they are named in Mexico.
Many other elements may enter in the composition of a salsa, such as chocolate in the case of mole; seeds or nuts as sesame,
pecan or almonds; and vinegar and lime juice.