Pico De Gallo: The inaugural installment in my survey of salsa

Or: “Making myself feel better about getting take-out by adding one homemade element”

So Mom and Dad, I know that when we spoke on the phone today I said my next post would be about the lovely borscht I made a few weeks ago. But then I had a look at what was left in this week’s Box of Wonders and saw among other things four jalapenos, a bunch of grape tomatoes from somewhere down south, and an onion. I don’t know about you, but to me that says salsa. But what kind of salsa? I had a slide show of choices running through my head, but in the interest of time and the possibility of consumption in conjunction with the take-out I am getting tonight to eat while watching the hockey playoffs starting in twenty minutes, I went with pico de gallo. In case you don’t know exactly what pico de gallo is (which would not be uncommon: when I worked in a restaurant that served it, I explained it to at least three or four customers per shift), it is distinct from other salsas in that none of the ingredients are cooked. Its most basic incarnation is just finely chopped tomato, jalapeno, and white onion with some lime juice. You see why it sprang to mind. Most recipes include some cilantro. Some include green bell pepper, but that is really just filler, and I like my salsas the way I like my crab cakes: with as little filler as possible!

As a short side note, I am planning on having this with a big order of fried plantains along with some amazing fresh-made chips and guacamole from a fantastic taqueria called El Pelon. I’m pretty sure the first burrito I had at this place was a turning point in my life. If you live in Boston, or hell if you live anywhere in New England, get there.

Anyway, here’s what we’ll be using:

A perk of using all these fresh ingredients is that they are absolutely gorgeous to look at.

A perk of using all these fresh ingredients is that they are absolutely gorgeous to look at.

As a very long side note, notice the limes. The limes are the reason this pico cost me three dollars to make instead of a buck-fifty. If you have been watching the news, you may be aware that the price of limes has skyrocketed in recent months. I have noticed because I love limes. Love ‘em. In soft drinks, in iced tea, in water, in certain beers…I usually buy at least two or three a week. Therefore I noticed that even at Russo’s, the price has gone from 20¢ a piece to 75¢ or even a dollar each. I just assumed that the harsh winter had hurt the lime crop. Ah, if only it were that simple. No, the reason limes have quadrupled in price is that, in addition to a blight hitting the California crop, Mexican drug cartels have muscled in on the lime business south of the border, either imposing huge taxes on farmers or killing the farmers and taking over the orchards themselves. Rival gangs are engaging in a small war over this. I…I got nothin’.

Wait, yes I do. I have several things in fact. The lime industry appears to have previously followed a model similar to the banana business (described in this fascinating and somewhat terrifying book), which is to say that growers and distributers sell their product very cheap, resulting in a very small profit margin, but they sell nearly incomprehensible amounts of the product, and therefore still make serious money. Someone in some cartel noticed this, and they are breaking the model and testing the elasticity of demand: how much more profit per lime can be made before people stop buying them?

Delicious. Refreshing. And it turns out, remarkably troublesome.

Delicious. Refreshing. And it turns out, remarkably troublesome.

By the way, I realize that these are very bad people and this is very serious business, but the incongruity of this as a branch of their operations is a tad crazy, and I feel like it is the organized crime equivalent of “Moneyball”. At some point, an accountant probably walked into a room with a bunch of spreadsheets and said, “Boss, I have an idea…Limes!…*silence*…No wait! Hear me out! Look here…look at the profit margin…it’s ridiculous. We could probably make three or four times that!”

Ears perked up. The lemon in my gin and tonic this summer will be by far the most innocuous result of that realization.

Anyway, we were talking about pico de gallo, and I need to get dinner, so let’s do this:

Now, you could go ahead and hand-dice all of the ingredients, or you could use the awesome food processor your sister got you for Christmas last year. The hand-dicing may be the more authentic route, but guess which way I am going.

Exactly. Food processor. So we only need to coarsely chop the ingredients because the Cuisinart is going to do most of the work.

Chop and seed the many grape tomatoes you have, or if you’re not trying to use a CSA item, a few roma tomatoes.

That's a lot of seeds.

That’s a lot of seeds.

Slice the jalapenos. If you want your pico hot, keep some of the ribs in. Coarsely chop maybe 1/4 of the onion. If you like cilantro, put in maybe a 1/3 cup. If you’re me, put in maybe ten leaves. I normally would leave it out altogether, but I’m hoping it will combine with the limes to make a nice tang. We’ll see.

Wreckage. Hunks of jalapeño everywhere: I will not be rubbing my eyes for a week or so.

Wreckage. Hunks of jalapeño everywhere: I will not be rubbing my eyes for a week or so.

Okay, squeeze the two limes in, and we’re ready to blend. By blend I mean pulse. Barely. It took two 2-second pulses to go from this:

Ready to go...

Ready to go…

to this:

Seriously. Four seconds later. Done.

Seriously. Four seconds later. Done.

The proportions are a matter of taste, but I definitely overdid the onion at first, which interestingly didn’t make the whole thing taste like onions, it just made the distinctive crunch of onion more pervasive than I would have liked. Happily, the fun part about the whole “not-cooked” thing is that I could just throw in more tomatoes to fix the problem. And holy Lord does the whole business reek of cilantro! Yack. But it actually tastes okay, so if I just do some carefully-orchestrated breathing while eating it should be fine. Trusty Roommate Chad, it should be noted, can barely taste the cilantro at all, and is walking around crushing one of the leaves between his fingers and inhaling deeply through his nose. You either like it or you don’t.

Now because I think everything tastes better with garlic, I threw in some finely diced fresh garlic, officially making the dish “Pico de Gallo a la Jackie”. Dash of salt, some fresh ground pepper, and we’re good to go. Bring on the frighteningly tasty fresh-made chips from El Pelon! I have to admit, Dad, that I got their guacamole, just to test it out. And it’s very good, but it doesn’t even come close to yours!

Tada!

Tada!

By the way, this experience has me interested in salsas. Pico de gallo is a good start for a survey of salsas that will likely last several months. Just think of the possibilities: red salsa, green salsa, fire-roasted salsa, fruit salsa, roasted garlic salsa, black bean and corn salsa, the list goes on. I’ll update you and keep a running tally of rankings, based on an assessment framework whose criteria will be determined shortly. Any suggestions for criteria are welcome!

 

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