Tortilla chips and salsa are common fare when dining out in a Mexican restaurant throughout the 50 states, and most restaurants pride themselves on serving up freshly made, spicy salsas that they make in-house to add to flautas, tacos, enchiladas, burritos and more. Some places even have their own salsa bar including options ranging from mild to super spicy ― in which case you’d better make sure you have a cold beverage nearby.
This Mexican condiment is a versatile staple that you’ll want to have on hand, whether you’re cooking up a Mexican dish, spicing up your plate of eggs, adding more zest to whatever you’re preparing or using as a dip for tortilla chips as a snack.
But have you ever wondered what Mexican chefs use or rely on in a pinch when they don’t have the time to make fresh salsa? HuffPost spoke to Mexican chefs and culinary professionals about what they reach for when they need salsa fast. You may be surprised at some of the items on the list!
What Chefs Look For In A Jarred Salsa
Salsa is an integral part of Mexican cooking. “It’s a condiment that is part of our family’s table,” said Yanni Sanchez, a Mexican-born chef who’s the executive chef at the Michelin-rated Takito Brands Restaurants in Chicago. “Excellent Mexican salsas include these three items ― think three colors of the Mexican flag (green, white and red): green (jalapeno), white (onion) and red (tomato).”
You’ll also want to pay attention to the ingredients list for some clues. “I look for the closest taste to homemade salsa, so I look for low amounts of thickeners and preservatives,” said Katsuji Tanabe, executive chef of a’Verde in Cary, North Carolina. If a salsa seems to stand out for the color and not the ingredients, that may be a sign it’s not one you want to use. “When they look too bright in color, there is usually something wrong,” Tanabe said.
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Herdez Mild Guacamole Salsa
If you’re searching for a salsa that meets the expectations of many Mexican chefs, Herdez is the one. “When I am in a pinch, my go-to salsa is the Herdez brand, with my personal favorite being the Guacamole Salsa Mild," said Dudley Nieto
, the executive chef at Fat Rosie's
in Illinois. "It is a universal, quality brand of salsa that uses a lot of ingredients that just make sense – with its homemade, roasted char flavoring, and the combination of tomatoes and peppers – it compliments anything.”
“I enjoy it on its own with chips, I use it on steak and chicken, and even put it on top of my pizza," Nieto said.
Fernando Renteria, a culinary professional at La Monarca Bakery
in California, loves using Herdez Guacamole Salsa to dollop on chicken taquitos, his favorite dish. The salsa "makes the dish," he said. "There are never any leftovers."
La Costeña Medium Home Style Mexican Salsa
Renteria said this brand has great just-like-homemade flavor and packs a punch. “Many of us lead busy lives and don't have the time to make salsa from scratch, but my favorite salsa tastes just as good as if I had made it myself," Renteria said. So next time you’re browsing the salsa options, consider this recommendation.
Herdez Roasted Poblano Salsa Cremosa
Looking for an all-around salsa to use for an array of dishes? Consider Herdez Roasted Poblano Salsa Cremosa. Katsuji Tanabe
, executive chef of a’Verde
in Cary, North Carolina, loves the versatility of this salsa. “We tend to use it as a quick fix with scrambled eggs or chicken quesadillas at home,” he said. “It has oil, so it’s richer than other salsas and we use it when we are in a rush to add something spicy.” Tanabe also adds this salsa to dishes that aren't complicated, because this salsa will make a dish stand out.
Tostitos Medium Salsa
Yanni Sanchez, the executive chef at the Michelin-rated Takito Brands Restaurants
, makes fresh salsa for her restaurant but decided to do an unscientific blind taste test of eight different jarred salsas with her staff. The team was surprised when they found out Tostitos brand salsa was the winner. “It was chunky, had Mexican spice flavors as one would expect, a good balance of salt and garlic, and easy to eat,” Sanchez said. “The tomatoes tasted ripe — a perfect amount of zest, with a generous blend of onion, garlic and jalapeno.”
Mission Medium Chunky Salsa
Curious what the runner-up was to Tostitos in the blind taste test? Mission Chunky Salsa. “The tomatoes had a zesty grip with the right amount of spices and salt,” Sanchez said. “It had a full-body density and was easy to enjoy,” she said. And the most surprising aspect about this salsa? "What impressed me most was that there was a rustic bite with a zesty finish that wasn't felt with other salsa."