How to Make Three Authentic Salsas with Roberto Santibañez

Photograph by Romulo Yanes from Roberto’s “Truly Mexican: Essential Recipes and Techniques for Authentic Mexican Cooking.” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)

Reprinted from Men’s Journal by Carol Reed

According to chef Roberto Santibañez, salsas should be seen as spicy condiments, like steak sauce or ketchup, where a quarter teaspoon is added to main dishes to “create an explosion on the palate.” If you like to down your salsa a cup at a time with a bag of corn chips, by all means. But that’s not their primary purpose. Chiles, roasted over a fire and beaten into salsa, are “part of the foundation of all Mexican cuisine,” says French-trained Santibañez, a native of Mexico City who is the former culinary director of famed New York eatery Rosa Mexicana, and lately, the chef-owner of the upscale Fonda restaurants and La Botaneria small-plates bar in Brooklyn, New York, and Manhattan. Here, Santibañez offers three recipes so you can make classic Mexican salsas – a red, a green, and pico de gallo – to pair with dinner at home.

Salsa Roja de Molcajete

This simple roasted tomato salsa, omnipresent in Mexico, is the one most Americans associate with the term salsa. It’s best when the garlic, roasted chiles, and salt are pounded to a paste in a molcajete, a traditional Mexican volcanic-stone mortar and pestle. But you can easily substitute a blender.
(Serves 4)

1 lb tomatoes (about 3 medium)
2 fresh serrano or jalapeño chiles, stemmed, or more to taste
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or 1/4 tsp fine salt

1. Preheat the oven or toaster oven to broil (or 500°). Core the tomatoes and cut a small X through skin on the bottom. Cook tomatoes, cored sides up, with the chiles on a foil-lined baking pan, turning chiles after 8 minutes or so. Roast 15 minutes total, or until chiles are tender, blistered all over, and partly blackened. Remove chiles and cook tomatoes another 15–20 minutes until the tops blacken and they’re cooked to the core. Cool slightly.
2. Peel off tomato skins, and remove the chile skins (you might have to use a paring knife).
3. Put peeled chiles, garlic, kosher salt, and one-third of roasted tomatoes in blender; puree until fairly smooth. Add remaining tomatoes and pulse a few times to keep texture chunky. Season to taste with additional salt.

Salsa Verde Cruda

This tart and spicy fresh tomatillo salsa is chef Santibañez’s favorite (“I live for this salsa”). Learn to tweak the tomatillos’ acidity with a little lime juice and salt “to make it all sing,” he says. It tastes best fresh – no more than a few hours after you make it.
(Makes 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 lb tomatillos (5 or 6), husked, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 fresh serrano or jalapeño chiles, coarsely chopped, including seeds, or more to taste
2 tbsp chopped white onion
1 large garlic clove, peeled
3/4 tsp fine salt, or 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Put the tomatillos in the blender jar first, then add the remaining ingredients. Blend until the salsa is very smooth (tomatillo seeds will still be visible), at least a minute. Season to taste, adjusting flavor if desired with additional chile and salt, then blend again.

Pico de Gallo with Lemon Zest

This raw, saladlike tomato salsa, also known as salsa Mexicana, is a riff on the classic, swapping lemon for lime. It is best made anywhere from a few hours to 30 minutes before serving to marry and deepen the flavors.
(Makes about 2 cups)

1 1/2 cups diced seeded tomatoes
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
Heaping 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tbsp plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped fresh serrano chiles, including seeds, or more to taste
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and stir thoroughly to distribute everything well. Season to taste with more chile, lemon juice, or salt, if desired.

Roberto Santibanez shares advice for young chefs

Roberto was the guest speaker at this year’s graduating class at the Culinary Institute of America. In this interview, he gives great advice to young and experienced chefs.

NYC’s Salvation Taco

SALVATION TACO is a new taco joint from two notable New York City chefs, our friend and chef extraordinaire, Roberto Santibañez of Fonda Restaurants, and the bold, highly successful chef of gastro pubs, April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory Oyster Bar. Bloomfield said that she and her business partner, Ken Friedman chose the name by giving a nod to the building’s former occupants, The Salvation Army. Roberto says this is a great place for eclectic mix of tacos and great drinks by mixologist, Sam Anderson. The trendy Pod 39 Hotel is also housed in the same building. For more information visit Zagat.

The Blind Burro, A Chef’s Dream

Once in a while, you receive affirmation that your life’s work has made a difference in someone else’s life. When Rick Bayless and I decided to commit to having chefs’ trips for food professionals twelve years ago, our purpose was to share our love for Mexico, its people and its cuisine, and to encourage young chefs to explore the richness and diversity that make this cuisine so wonderful. I wanted to share this letter that we received from one of our chefs who has participated in two of our trips. Sara has just opened the Blind Burro in San Diego at 639 J St., specializing in Baja cuisine. We are so proud of her and appreciate the small part that we had in inspiring her to make her dream come true.


I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for creating the outlet for the many chefs and food professionals who have attended your trips over the years to be exposed to and inspired by the Mexican culture and cuisine. Without the opportunity I jumped at 2 years ago, I would not be experiencing what I am right now. Although my passion for authentic Mexican food and its culture was initially inspired by Rick and his show, it has been elevated to a new level each time I come back from one of your trips. The knowledge, techniques, flavors, experiences and inspiration from the chefs, colleagues and culture around me when we are on the trips is priceless and has truly changed my life and who I am as a person.

I am writing this to you not even 24 hours after the most surreal experience of my career. I just spent the last 3 1/2 months developing a menu for a Baja inspired restaurant, Blind Burro, that we opened last night in downtown San Diego. I have never been prouder of anything I have accomplished in my career and it seems to be the consensus of the guests as well. We served an overwhelming number of people last night and it was as if we had been open for years. As I walked the dining room talking to guests, they commented that they had never seen anyone so excited about the food. I owe so much of that to you and everyone involved in my experiences over the years. From Rick to Roberto (Santibañez), Ricardo (Muñoz), Ana Elena (Martinez), all of my fellow chefs and everyone I have met along the way on this incredible journey.

I know that not everyone will enjoy the food, that is just the nature of the game…..but I know that I put my heart and soul into this project, because it has become so much a part of me. I have so much more to learn about the food and culture and it will become part of my life journey to dive deeper with every experience. I had the opportunity to work side by side with Javier Plascencia (Misión 19) last week and talk with Miguel Ángel (Guerrero Yaguës of La Querencia) at his museum exhibit and I feel like there are great things to come with them in the new year.

I just wanted you and the others to know how much I appreciate what you/they have done for me and I thank all of you!

Happiest of Holidays!

Sara Polczynski

To follow the Blind Burro you can like their page on Facebook. To read more about the Baja experience our chefs experienced in September, go here. Our next chefs’ trip will be to Mexico City and Puebla September 22-24, 2013.

A Chef’s tour of Mexico City with Roberto Santibañez

Photo by David Hagerman for The New York Times

My friend and chef extraordinaire, Roberto Santibañez, met his friend and co-author, J. J. Goode, of two of his cookbooks, Truly Mexican and the new Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales, in Mexico City where Roberto was able to share his love of his hometown. The outcome was recently published in Goode’s article in The New York Times.

I first met Roberto many years ago when he was a chef at an exciting new restaurant in Mexico City’s Zona Rosa where he introduced me to poblano chiles stuffed with a tangy cheese enveloped in puff pastry. Roberto later started his own restaruant in Mexico City before heading to the U.S. where he became the chef at Fonda San Miguel in Austin and then to Rosa Mexicano in New York City. He recently opened his second Fonda restaurant in Manhattan. I am so lucky to have Roberto as an occasional guest chef on my culinary trips to Mexico.

Roberto’s new book will be available in October. You can preorder from Amazon now.