The ‘drunk’ tequila salsa your taco night deserves
Tequila’s rich depth of flavor and wide range of styles make it a versatile ingredient behind the bar. These same facets also allow Agave Distillate to shine in the kitchen, although this is an arena that has often seen the ingredient become underused and underrated.
Traditional Mexican salsa borracha (drunk salsa) uses hot pulque or light beer to rehydrate the pasilla peppers, which are then mixed with fresh onions and garlic into a rich, spicy condiment. Some cooks also add a few splashes of tequila to the warmed liquid to give extra flavor and bring the country’s most famous distillate into the kitchen. Anyone who wants to take it one step further and allow the tequila profile to take center stage in the culinary scene can take inspiration from salsa borracha and the riff of another of Mexico’s wonderful sauces: salsa verde.
A common accessory in taquerias, salsa verde is also an important ingredient when cooking dishes such as enchiladas verdes and pollo tamales in salsa verde. The earthy green sauce acquires a bright, sweet profile from a tomatillo base and an intense flavor of raw onions, garlic, chili peppers and cilantro. With its green and vegetal profile, tequila is perfectly suited to these flavors and adds dazzling extra layers to the sauce. It’s worth pointing out that incorporating the spirit of agave into the recipe results in a non-traditional salsa verde. But it’s a delicious way to use tequila in cooking, taking inspiration from both salsa verde and salsa borracha, and providing a complex condiment that can be cooked with and used as a taco topping or dip for fries.
The first step in any salsa verde preparation is cleaning and then cooking the tomatillos. Traditionally, and more simply, this can be done by boiling the peeled and washed fruit in water with some optional serrano or jalapeño peppers. Alternatively, the tomatillos can be cut in half, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and broiled. This process intensifies the sweet flavors of the fruit, while adding charred notes to the final sauce via the now dark, puffy skins.
The tomatillos should be allowed to cool to room temperature after cooking, with any liquid that has escaped from the fruit set aside to be used during mixing. We also include two large roasted poblano peppers in this recipe (another non-traditional departure) to provide further smoky green notes that will highlight the profile of the tequila in the finished sauce.
Before we get to the tequila, a quick note on the raw ingredients: onion, garlic, cilantro and jalapeño are included uncooked to maintain a vibrant character and contrast with the cooked notes of tomatillos and poblano peppers. . If you generally find the flavor of raw onion overwhelming, soaking the chopped vegetable in cold water for five minutes helps remove its bite.
Since we tailor this sauce to accommodate tequila, choosing which bottle to incorporate shouldn’t be an afterthought. With all of the flavors geared towards the earthy, vegetal notes of tequila, a bottle that maintains the character of agave is imperative. And given the sweetness of roasted tomatillos, a slightly aged style, like reposado, is the ultimate option. With these two considerations in mind, we favor Tequila Ocho Reposado, but there are a number of suitable candidates in VinePair’s latest tequila roundup. (Also consider using half the tequila and half the mezcal to add another smoky seasoning to the sauce.)
Although the recipe calls for barely more tequila than you could mix in a standard margarita, don’t be tempted to add more. Just a few ounces allow the flavor of the spirit to arrive piercing, potent and, most importantly, balanced in the finished sauce.
When you mix all the ingredients together, the reserved liquid from the roasted tomatillos can be used to adjust its consistency, depending on whether you want a thicker sauce for the fries or a slightly thinner sauce that will reduce if used for cooking.
After mixing, a final step sees the sauce cooked for a few minutes in a saucepan over high heat. This removes some of the alcohol from the mind that can otherwise awkwardly stand out and taste disjointed. The process also brings all the flavors together and increases the intensity of its profile.
The recipe for green salsa with tequila tips
Makes 4 cups
- 9 medium tomatillos (1 ½ pound)
- 2 large poblano peppers (2 ½ ounces)
- 1 medium white onion, minced (6 ounces)
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 2 jalapeño peppers, stemless and seeded
- 20 cilantro sprigs, thick stems removed
- 3 ounces of tequila reposado, such as Tequila Ocho
- 2 tablespoons olive olive, plus more for drizzling
- Juice of 1 lime
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut the tomatillos in half and place them skin side up on a foil-lined baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and place under the broiler until charred and softened, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Remove the tomatillos from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Separate and reserve any liquid that has escaped from the fruit during cooking.
- Repeat the process with the poblano peppers, season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Broil until charred, turning every few minutes to color all sides.
- Remove from oven when soft and blackened. Peel off the charred skin, remove the stems and seeds, and let cool to room temperature.
- Add the tomatillos, poblano peppers, onion, garlic, jalapeños, cilantro and tequila in a blender. Mix until all the ingredients are broken down, but avoid mixing for too long and reach a velvety consistency. For a finer sauce, add the reserved tomatillo cooking liquid.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan that will comfortably contain all the sauce. When the oil reaches a high temperature, add the sauce and stir immediately. Do not let the sauce get caught on the bottom of the pan and avoid hot splashes of oil and sauce. Cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Cool to room temperature then season to taste with salt, pepper and fresh lime juice as needed.
- Serve with tortilla chips or your favorite tacos.