Essential Roasted Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa

Salsa de Chile Chipotle y Tomate Verde

These are the most attractive salsa flavors I know: tangy (almost citrusy) from the tomatillos; smoky and hot from the chipotles, and sweetly aromatic from the roasted garlic. Add anything else but salt (and a pinch of sugar if the tartness of your tomatillos seems to be standing out too much) and you're gilding a naturally perfect lily. I just love this salsa. Unlike salsas that have lots of raw ingredients, this one can be kept for days in the refrigerator. The flavors come together nicely, though the frisky, just-cooked tomatillo flavor mellows out somewhat. As you approach the final step of this simple salsa, you can choose whether you like the rusty-colored, fully integrated flavors of the smoother version, or the olive-colored, flecked-with-red, rougher-looking version that'll offer surprise bursts of chipotle in every mouthful. When you have the time, try a third alternative in the mortar, crushing together the garlic and chiles first, then working in the tomatillos a couple at a time; the garlic and chiles will be noticeably richer and fuller, the texture of the tomatillos beautifully coarse. Makes about 1 1/4 cups

3 to 6 (1/4 to 1/2 ounce total) dried chiles chipotles colorados (chiles moritas) OR 2 to 4 (1/4 to 1/2 ounce total) dried chiles chipotles mecos OR 3 to 6 canned chiles chipotles en adobo
3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
8 ounces (5 to 6 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon
Sugar, about 1/4 teaspoon

Toasting and roasting the key ingredients. Set an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat. If using dried chiles, break off their stems. Toast the chiles a few at a time: lay on the hot surface, press flat for a few seconds with a metal spatula (they'll crackle faintly and release their smoky aroma), then flip and press down to toast the other side. Transfer the toasted chiles to a bowl, cover with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to insure even soaking. Pour off all the water and discard.

If using canned chiles, simply remove them from the adobo they're packed in.

On a heavy, ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat (you'll already have it on if you're using dried chiles), roast the unpeeled garlic, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots and soft, about 15 minutes. Cool, slip off the papery skins, then roughly chop.

Lay the tomatillos on a baking sheet and place about 4 inches below a very hot broiler. When the tomatillos blister, blacken and soften on one side, about 5 minutes, turn them over and roast the other side. Cool completely on the baking sheet.

The salsa. Method 1 (the smoother alternative): Scrape the tomatillos (and any juices that have accumulated around them) into a food processor or blender and add the rehydrated or canned chiles and garlic. Pulse the machine until everything is thick and relatively smooth (detectable little bits will add textural interest). Method 2 (the chunkier alternative): Scrape the tomatillos (and any juices that have accumulated around them) into a food processor or blender and add the garlic. Pulse until everything is coarsely pureed. Chop the rehydrated or canned chiles into tiny bits, then stir them into the tomatillo mixture.

Transfer your salsa to a serving bowl and stir in enough water, usually 3 to 4 tablespoons, to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency. Taste and season with salt, plus a little sugar, if you want to soften the tangy edge.

Advance preparation--The finished salsa will keep about 1 week in the refrigerator, though the tomatillos have the brightest flavor for the first 24 hours.

Other chiles you can use: Dried árbol (use 3 to 6) or cascabel (use 2 to 3) can replace the chipotles. Dried chile pasilla Oaxaqueño taste delicious here (use 1 to 3) if you can lay your hands on them.

Source of recipe: Rick Bayless, Mexican Kitchen