January 22, 2010 9:15 AM
Do You Dare? Habanero Salsa!

This salsa does hurt.

But just a little.

Yet it goes oh-so-well with the Pollo Pibil, which together with red pickled onions makes for a delicious Yucatecan meal. A bowl of this Habanero salsa is standard on just about every table in Yucatán. Around there, people drizzle some spoonfuls, or drops, on just about everything.

I recently found this salsa is heavenly combined with Louisiana style Bar-b-que and some baked beans (!). While it can make people very unhappy if not given a warning of how spicy it is, for the Yucatan class we had in December, the 20 batches made were gone before the middle of the meal. We did give our guests a warning... While my cooking team kept saying I was making too much, we made some bets, and much to my surprise, I won. I have learned now, that the American and international palate is much more open, than say a decade ago, for spicy foods. 

Market pics.jpgSo Habaneros have become wildly popular throughout the world. Aside from their cute, happy and beautiful appearance, they are one incredible source of heat and are used to make many hot sauces that heat aficionados, like my uncle, crave for.

The photo above shows some Habaneros my husband shot at the market in Mérida, Yucatán. The photo below, are Habaneros I found here in the DC area.

Habanero2.JPGThis wickeldy hot sauce is really easy to make at home. Just char the chiles and garlic cloves either in a broiler, a dry skillet or a hot comal (as I did below for the 20 batches of salsa for the Yucatán cooking class and dinner).

Habanero4.JPGThen, please seed the chiles.

Believe me.

You must!

While I have gotten many requests for very spicy hot sauces from some of you, dear friends... please seed the Habaneros. If not, instead of wickedly-spicy salsa, you will have a somebody-please-help-me-or-I shall-die-from-this-heat salsa. 

Once charred and soft, place the seeded chiles and peeled garlic cloves in the blender or your molcajete, and puree or mash away with some salt and either bitter orange or its substitute (1/4 orange juice, 1/4 grapefruit juice, 1/4 lime juice and 1/4 vinegar).

Habanero7.JPGOne of the nice things about using a molcajete, aside of exercising your arm a bit, is that the molcajete stores oils, flavors and aromas of the ingredients previously used. The molcajete adds a hint of those flavors, and its stored memories, into future concoctions.

If you dare try this salsa (hey! come on, why not?), please let me know, after you get over the shock. 

Serves 2

4 habanero chilies, charred (seeded if you want to try to reduce the heat)
6 garlic cloves, toasted or roasted and then peeled
1 cup bitter orange, or its substitute (1/4 cup grapefruit juice, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/4 lime juice and 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar)
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste

Char the Habanero chiles and garlic cloves with their skin on either a comal or dry skillet over medium heat, on the grill or under the boiler. In either case, it will take anywhere from 4 to 9 minutes, flipping once or twice in between. You know they are ready when their skins are charred and toasted and they have softened, without having the flesh burnt.

For the traditional take, peel the garlic cloves and place, along with the chiles, in a molcajete or mortar. Smash until fairly smooth. Add the salt and the bitter orange or its substitutes and mix until well combined.

Alternatively, place the ingredients in the blender or food processor and puree until smooth.