Gabriela Cámara’s Salsa Negra

published Mar 7, 2022
Salsa Negra Recipe

Chiles mecos give this recipe its color and name.

Makes2 cups

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Credit: Marcus Nilsson

This salsa gets its black color (and name) from chiles mecos. The chile meco is a smoked and dried jalapeño. It has a completely desiccated, almost brittle texture, unlike the more leathery, still-red mora. When you fry chiles mecos, they turn from the color of milk chocolate to dark chocolate. After the fried chiles get blended with fried garlic, piloncillo, and toasted walnuts, the resulting salsa is savory with just a hint of sweetness, smoky and spicy in a way that manages to be both intense and mellow. It is oily and thick like a pesto, and a little goes a long way. At Cala, we serve it in a small wooden bowl alongside a whole roasted sweet potato. It’s also a great rub for grilled octopus, or you can sauté greens with with a bit of the salsa or toss summer squash with it before roasting.

Make sure you’re buying dried chipotles, or chiles mecos, not chipotles canned in adobo, the more common form of chipotle chiles. You can order the dried ones online if you don’t have a market nearby with a well-stocked Mexican food section.

Piloncillo is the most minimally processed form of sugar that you can buy: cane juice boiled into a syrup and poured into cone-shaped molds. For small amounts (like this salsa calls for), you can use a grater or a Microplane. For larger quantities, use a butcher knife to cut off chunks that you can weigh. It melts easily and has a subtle caramel taste, with just a hint of smokiness. While you can substitute light brown sugar and this will still taste good, note that piloncillo is naturally brown, unlike American brown sugar, which is just refined white sugar with molasses mixed in. The molasses imparts its own flavor, which isn’t one that’s part of traditional Mexican cooking.

Salsa Negra Recipe

Chiles mecos give this recipe its color and name.

Makes 2 cups

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 cups

    rice bran oil, safflower oil, or any vegetable oil with a high smoke point

  • 1 1/2 ounces

    chiles mecos (about 15 dried smoked chipotle chiles), stemmed and seeded

  • 40

    garlic cloves (about 2 heads)

  • 1 tablespoon

    piloncillo, grated, or firmly packed 1 tablespoon light brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    sea salt

  • Heaping 1 cup walnuts

Instructions

  1. In a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the oil to 350°F. Make sure to use a pan that is big enough to fry your chiles without crowding them. The oil should be 1 to 2 inches deep. To test whether the oil is hot enough, place a wooden spoon in the oil and see if tiny bubbles gather around the wood. Once they do, add the dried chiles and fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until they puff up and turn the color of dark chocolate. Once they’re done, turn off the heat under the pan, remove the chiles with a slotted spoon, and place them in the bowl of a food processor or in the jar of a very powerful blender.

  2. Immediately drop all of the garlic cloves into the same hot oil used to fry your chiles. Even though the stove is off, the oil should still be very hot, and you will see a commotion of bubbles as the garlic is submerged in it. The cold garlic will begin to lower the temperature of the oil. Let them simmer in it for about 10 minutes, watching to make sure there are always small bubbles rising in the pot but that it’s not frying at a raucous boil. You may need to turn your stove back on to the lowest possible heat setting if the bubbles come to a stop. You want the garlic to get super-soft and stay fairly light in color, not turn a dark brown so that you get a custardy, roasted garlic texture and a taste that is not bitter but sweet. To test for doneness, use a slotted spoon to remove one of the fried cloves of garlic from the oil. When you press on it with the back of a spoon, it should mash easily. Once the garlic has reached this texture, use the slotted spoon to remove them from the oil (reserving the oil) and place them in the food processor or blender with the chiles. Add the piloncillo or brown sugar and the salt.

  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

  4. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet, in a single layer, and lightly toast for 5 minutes. You only want to activate the oils, not darken the walnuts, or they will become bitter.

  5. By the time your walnuts have toasted, the reserved oil will have cooled to a temperature where you can handle it. Add the walnuts to the food processor or blender, then purée while slowly adding between 3/4 and 1 1/2 cups of the reserved oil in a thin stream. Blend until it seems as if it can’t get any smoother. You want a dark paste that is as uniform as possible. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate overnight or for up to 24 hours before using so that any remaining chile bits soften.

  6. Because the garlic has been confited in oil, this salsa will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. You can also freeze it for up to 6 months.

Recipe Notes

Reprinted with permission from My Mexico City Kitchen: Recipes and Convictions by Gabriela Cámara and Malena Watrous, copyright © 2019. Published by Lorena Jones Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.