I remember very clearly the evening that I made “mexican” food for my host family. It was back in 2008, I had been living with the Fonteñez’ for about five months and most of our conversations were me babbling about all the food I missed. My host mother wasn’t much of a cook and our meals were pretty much always spaghetti measured out in portions fit for a small bird. Five months of spaghetti. Everyday my host dad would come home from work right as the meal was being served, clap his hands together in excitement and proclaim ¡Que rico! as if it were some big awesome surprise. It was neither a surprise nor was it awesome.
After months of begging I was given kitchen privileges and for one night was allowed to cook tacos. I was warned not to make anything spicy because the time they had traveled to California my host dad ate so much salsa they had to take him to the hospital. So I made a meal that was more tex-mex than I’m particularly proud to admit: grilled pork, guacamole, mexican rice, refried beans and different salsas. The tiny dining table overflowed with food. Amidst the preparations my host sister came into the kitchen and shrieked in horror that I was cooking with ground pepper and garlic, ¡muy picante! she screamed, before calling her mom into the kitchen who puffed out her cheeks and gestured a fat belly, me unsure if she was warning me about making everyone bloated or proclaiming the enormous fat qualities of pepper and garlic. The final meal was lackluster and I vowed to never again make an Argentine version of Mexican food, and thus have developed the sit down, shut up, eat your food and don’t complain mentality.
Whenever I come back from the US I make sure to bring back bags of dried chiles, and am currently experimenting with re-hydrating dried seeds so I can plant my first batch of Puya, Arbol and Pasilla Ancho varieties. But my chile stocks generally get used up quickly and I’m left to use what is locally available. I can count the amount of available fresh chiles on one hand: rocoto, aji vinagre and jalapeños, and dried varieties generally limited to pricy aji amarillo and chile japones. Rocoto is a little too unpredictable, I have no idea where to begin using aji vinagre, and have tried a million aji amarillo recipes and have failed miserably to pull out it’s spice. So jalapeños it is, and damn is this hot sauce good, so good that it always finds a space at the table during our MASA dinners.
It also helps that it is extremely easy to prepare and the lemon juice acts as a natural preservative that keeps it from going bad as quickly as a fresh salsa would. To make a jar of this salsa you need the following:
- 12 fresh jalapeños
- 24 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup of vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup of lemon juice
In a large pan, roast the jalapeños and garlic over a high heat until blackened. Remove from heat and let cool. Remove skin of garlic and stem and chop the jalapeños. I don’t remove the seeds because, well, what’d be the point? Roughly chop the jalapeños and garlic and put it in a blender with the lemon juice. Blend and slowly incorporate the oil. The garlic will act as an emulsifier and keep the ingredients from separating over time. The sauce is really thick and creamy. You can add water (be sure to mix it well) if you wish to thin it out or simply to have more salsa – I generally add between 2/3 and 1/2 cup of water and have never noticed a distinct change in the flavor.
Some tips for picking the best jalapeños. Jalapeños get spicier over time. They grow green and eventually turn red as the spice intensifies. A green jalapeño will generally be on the mild side with red jalapeños being much spicier, if the jalapeño has little white streaks that look like stretch marks it’ll be even spicier. The spice is contained in the seeds and the veins, so if you want to wipe your brow don’t remove them.
Taste this sauce and tell me you haven’t just found your new best friend. I use it with everything. I make so much I invested in squeeze bottles just to make my love affair feel more legitimate. I use it to add spice to hamburger meat, in barbecue sauces, spicy mayo and curry, on top of tacos and pizza slices, mixed into mac n cheese, to marinate grilled chicken. Everything and anything. The roasted garlic and jalapeños give the sauce a wonderful complexity with an unexpected slight tart from the lemon juice. Also, in a city like this bring this sauce to the party and people are going to treat you like royalty.
What’s your trick to adding spice to the food in BA?