Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Salsa Connoisseur: Introduction

If you've ever looked into wine appreciation, then you might agree with me that it's a hotbed of pretension. Terms like "bouquet" and "nose", flavors like "leather" and "tobacco", and phrases like "antithetical to the passion" abound. And recently, this sort of thing isn't even limited to wine--you can see it in other alcoholic beverages (whiskies and microbrew beers are popular), non-alcoholic beverages (coffee), and foodstuffs (often cheese and chocolate).

So if you can take a critical, almost artistic approach to describing everything else you can eat and drink, why not salsa? I'm a huge fan of the "sauce/condiment" category in general, and salsa is among my favorite ones of those. Over the last several years, I've sampled probably dozens of different kinds, and I've identified three qualities that make a salsa good.

First, the perfect salsa is uniform and has well-distributed ingredients. In general, that means I prefer fluid salsas to chunkier ones. I like my tomato to be blended into the salsa--the base for the salsa, if you will--and pieces of tomato should be small to negligible. The perfect salsa should be more viscous than water but never syrupy.

Second, the perfect salsa balances heat with flavor. A salsa should never sacrifice tasting good to get more tongue-scorching power. That said, it should always be spicy enough to convince me that I'm eating a salsa rather than a "dip" or "sauce". In general, this means I prefer salsas in the "medium" to "hot" range, but I'm okay with "ridiculous" as long as it still tastes like something.

Third, the perfect salsa uses sensible, quality ingredients. Salsas today have all sorts of bizarre, eye-catching ingredients, but they can cross over into "gimmicky" really easily. That means I prefer a salsa that has generic but high-quality ingredients to one that tries to throw in fruit but ends up muddling the salsa flavor. And never, ever add sugar.

In what I hope becomes a semi-regular feature in Isoceleria, the salsa connoisseur will review various salsas and treat them to pretentious wine-style reviews in a manner that's only halfway tongue-in-cheek. Look forward to the premiere installment, "Trader Joe's Salsa Autentica", coming soon.

Currently listening: "The Fisherman Song", Mae

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