“No, dude, this place has the best fish tacos in the world. Literally, ranked. You gotta have one or two.”
“It’s the pico de gallo, man”. Just use your hands”.
from the film “I Love You Man” (2009)
This small take from the hilarious feature film starring comedians Paul Rudd and Jason Segel pretty much sums up a widespread belief about this traditional Mexican salsa: it is finger licking good!
Pico de gallo, also known as salsa fresca, is one of the most versatile condiments to be found at any dinner table or party gathering. As a dip for your favorite tortilla or corn chips, or a topping for anything as varied as chicken, fish, skirt steaks, scrambled eggs, tacos, fajitas, and even salads – pico de gallo is rarely surpassed as the go-to for taking your taste buds to the next level.
What makes pico de gallo so unique is the pop and zing it adds to any meal or snack. Typically loaded with the freshest diced tomatoes, onions, chili peppers and cilantro – and topped with fresh squeezed lime juice – this raw mix of goodness is incredibly quick to make. While allowing the flavors to sit for a couple of hours before consuming the dish adds to its tastiness, serving pico de gallo right off the bat has never diminished its wonderful flavor. So much of what makes it such a fun treat is the flexibility that can go into making it – you can choose whatever flavors your prefer, such as diced radishes, cucumber, tomatillos or pickles. But creating a base for your version is important, especially if you want it to live up to its fun and cheeky name.
So, what is pico de gallo and what makes it stand apart from salsa? Both pico de gallo and salsa originated in Mexican cuisine. The primary difference between the two is the amount of liquid contained and the freshness of ingredients in each. As mentioned earlier, ingredients in pico de gallo are raw while salsa generally uses canned tomatoes, which have a great deal more liquid.
Acclaimed food writer Sharon Tyler Herbst suggests that pico de gallo is so named because people originally ate it by pinching pieces between the thumb and forefinger (which aptly corresponds with the literal translation of the term pico de gallo, “rooster’s beak”). Other notable food writers share that the term recalls the appearance of bird feed because the vegetables are finely chopped.
While pico de gallo can be made all year round, your tastiest version will probably arise during the summer months when tomatoes are their ripest. It is also important to consider using the freshest vegetables you can find. This will not only add to the crisp and crunchy feel to your meal, but will yield the best tasting pico de gallo you can make. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind as you create your own delicious version:
PICKING YOUR TOMATOES FOR SALSA FRESCA
As I mentioned earlier, the key difference between pico de gallo and salsa is the amount of liquid found in each. And because there are so many varieties of tomatoes to choose from, it’s important you pick the type that contains the least amount of juice and offers the best flavor. Your best bet is to go with Roma tomatoes (sometimes also referred to as Plum tomatoes). These tomatoes offer a hearty and firm texture, and provide great flavor. You may be tempted to discard the seeds, but I would suggest you don’t. There is a lot of flavor to be found by using the tomato in its entirety.
PICKING YOUR ONIONS
If you’ve never been able to tell the subtle differences between the various types of onions sold at your market, you’re not alone. Almost 90% of the onions sold in US supermarkets are yellow onions, and are typically the onion of choice for almost every dish. However, most recipes for pico de gallo opt for white onions (which I recommend), as they provide a mild, sweet and cleaner flavor than their cousins and are perfect for eating raw. Plus, they complement the tomatoes nicely.
In general, raw onions can add an intense “punch” to uninitiated taste buds, so finely chopping them prior, with some garlic, and letting them sit in lemon or lime juice for a short while can go a long way in cutting back their intensity.
PICKING YOUR CHILI PEPPERS
Here is where your personal preferences can really come into play. When choosing chili peppers, you are more than likely to find jalapenos available in your food market. However, feel free to use chilies of your liking, such as serrano’s, for example. A great way to control the amount of heat is to taste as you go, and maybe de-stem the chili if desired.
CILANTRO: SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I?
There are quite a few people who often declare that they hate cilantro and it’s even been proven that their distaste is genetically linked. With that in mind, if it’s absolutely necessary to skip this wonderful additive, then by all means do so. Perhaps start with a small amount of cilantro and top it off with parsley? Or for all you cilantro lovers out there – go all the way (as per amount the recipe suggests!)
MAKING IT YOUR OWN
One of the many reasons why making pico de gallo can be so satisfying is that in the end, it’s solely up to you to create what you crave. Depending on the time of year, you may or may not have access to all the vegetables you desire which can create differences in volume and texture. Also, there are no exact measurements to go by (only recommended), and your dicing and chopping can be as minced or chopped as you wish.
More than anything, pico de gallo is perfect for anyone happy to improvise. Adjusting flavor, heat and acidity as you go along is part of the fun. So, as the old song goes: Pico de gallo, you oughta give it a try-o! Even if you’re from Ohio, it’ll get you by-o!
HOW TO MAKE PICO DE GALLO/SALSA FRESCA
- Tomatoes ( seeded & chopped)- 4-5 medium
- Cilantro ( Known also as Coriander leaves)- 1 cup ( chopped)
- Onion- 1 large or 2 medium
- Garlic cloves( finely chopped) - 2
- Lime Juice-3 tbsp
- Oregano- ¼ tsp ( optional)
- Serrano Chiles- 1 large ( chopped)
- Salt- To Taste
- Black Pepper- ⅓ tsp
- Take a bowl, combine all the ingredients.
- Add lime juice and seasoning.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 1 week in a container.
Viola! Salsa Fresca ( PICO DE GALLO).