Vermillion-Famous Salsa Guide

I’ve had a number of requests for my salsa recipe since I started talking about making and canning it two days ago.

Vermillion-famous salsa

I can’t do that.  I can’t give you my recipe.

But!  I can provide guidelines.  My salsa changes slightly every year because it really depends on what is coming out of the gardens (and how much), what peppers are ripe n’ ready, what herbs and spices I have one hand.

First off is the base: I don’t chunk up the tomatoes, I make a tomato sauce base.  That means putting the tomatoes (whatever’s ripe–it’s usually the first tomato project, so I’m not picky about varieties) through my strainer.  I use the pumpkin screen, so it’s a little pulpy, and a lot of the seeds end up in it, too.

Cook it down–make it fairly thick but be careful not to scorch it.  I reduced by half, which meant I ended up with about seven quarts of tomato sauce.

Now, the spices and herbs.  Because I made the sauce base the day before canning, I could add the flavorings the night before and let them steep.  A couple of bay leaves (take out later), a couple tablespoons of cumin seed.

Use Mexican oregano (which tastes different than the Greek variety).  I put in a couple tablespoons of ground ancho chili, which adds depth.  I also add chipotle for smokiness–yesterday I used powder, but sometimes I chop a few chipotles of the canned-with-adobo-sauce variety.  Some black pepper.  Some celery seed.

The next day, I chop the peppers and onions and garlic and add those.  I don’t try to make my salsa hot–if it turns out fairly spicy, that’s OK, but it really just depends on your pepper mix.  My hot ones were planted late, so I only had about a dozen jalapenos–I added a few hot red peppers flakes dried from last year’s crop to the tomato base.

The rest were Napoleon and Italian Sweets and Jimmy Nardellos.  A few red ripe ones are nice if you have them this early in the season.  The Nardellos always turn red first and fast.  I like to use the yellow Hungarian Hot Wax, too, but the rabbits got ’em all this year.

Include the seeds and veins of the hot peppers if you want the finished product hotter.  Know, too, that after processing in the canner, the heat will be tamed somewhat.  If you want it hotter, you can always add hot sauce (which, of course, you will also make and can yourself!).

I add about equal amounts of peppers to onions/garlic.  In the end, the volume of peppers and onions and garlic all together should about equal the amount of tomato sauce you have.

Do not process the added vegetables in a machine–chop them by hand with a sharp knife.  I know it’s a pain, but food processors mush your peppers and onions (and so do dull knives).  Chop them fairly small (medium dice), so when you go to dip a chip you can actually get it down in the salsa without running into huge hunks of pepper.

Dump the peppers and onions and garlic in the tomato sauce (you’ll need a big pot).  I also sometimes add chopped flatleaf parsley and/or celery (celeriac) leaf.  If you use celery leaves, omit the celery seed from the tomato base prep.

Don’t bother adding cilantro to salsa that is destined for the canner because cilantro’s flavor doesn’t hold up in the cooking process.  I like to sprinkle a little chopped fresh cilantro over the top when I serve my salsa (if I’m not in the presence of the ubiquitous cilantro-hater).  That makes it taste fresh from the garden.

Once you have the whole shebang thrown together, you can add some salt.

I wait until close to the end, so I can accurately judge how much to add.  For the whole 7 quarts of sauce and 7 quarts of chopped vegetables (which ended up being 19 pints processed–the chopped veggies don’t add as much volume to the finished product as you’d think), I added a skosh less than two tablespoons of salt.  We are not salty-food eaters.

AND THEN–you add the extra acid to make it safe to BWB can.  I am not going to tell you how much to add–in deference to the USDA and Extension Food Safety Educators everywhere and the varying size your recipe might turn out to be.

I can tell you that you will probably end up needing less added acid if you use a tomato sauce base instead of chunked tomatoes in your salsa.

But!  I will tell you to use bottled lemon juice instead of vinegar.  It tastes way, way better that way–fresher and less “pickled.”  Bottled lemon juice is about the same acidity as 5% vinegar, and once it’s processed in the canner, you won’t notice the flavor of it so much.

After adding the lemon juice, bring the salsa up to a boil, then simmer it all together for about five minutes before putting it in the jars (1/4″ headroom) and affixing your lids/rings and processing.  I do BWB canner for 15 minutes (once it returns to a boil) on this recipe, plus about five minutes cool-down in the canner before removing the jars.

The only problematic thing I’ve noticed with the lemon juice salsa is that it tends to mold more quickly after it is opened than a vinegar-acidified product.

Just make sure to always use a clean utensil in the opened jar and transfer only as much salsa as you need to a separate bowl for serving/dipping.  If you don’t tend to eat salsa quickly, can it in smaller jars.

I usually can salsa in pints, but I do like the wide-mouth half pints for bringing to potlucks and parties–especially because their shape makes a natural dipping vessel.  Once chip crumbs get in the salsa, you might as well eat it all because it won’t last.

But that won’t be hard to do because it’ll be incredibly delicious!


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