Salsa - A California Central Coast Dietary Cornerstone
Name a Californian who hates salsa and I'll show you someone not from California. Salsa is one of the ways of living around here. We dump salsa on any meal, including and especially breakfast, you better believe eggs taste better with salsa.
Salsa is also a hobby of mine. I seek out highly recommended and underground salsas like a vinyl record hunting packrat. And if I'm not tracking down a new salsa, I'm making my own. The right salsa is about balance between spiciness, hunks of veggies, heat, savory notes, sweetness, consistency, all sorts of considerations. Too much of anything will ruin a batch. For instance, I'm a cilantro guy, I didn't think there was such a thing as too much cilantro, but I'm being honest when I say I over-cilantro'd and ruined a batch of homemade salsa. Anything, especially an ingredient you love in too much abundance, can ruin a salsa. Salsa is about respect for the harmony.
Let's start with the tasting facility, everyone has his or her favorite tortilla chip, and I'm no different. My go-to's are the harder to find, yet absolutely fantastic, Have'A Corn Chips. Made in Laguna Beach, CA. These are as great on their own as they are for a dipping technology. It's like a healthier version of salted corn chips, except these have soy sauce instead of mountains of salt. They're somewhat hard to find, but you can get them from the SLO co-op and California Fresh in Pismo Beach for $1.79 a bag. Buy as many bags as you can when you spot them, it's like witnessing a Yetti. Here's what to look for in your local isle.
SALSA REVIEWS - ALL REVIEWS OUT OF 5 STARS.
F McLINTOCKS - MEDIUM SALSA ★★★1/2
I'm taking on a classic Central Coast favorite, F. McLintocks Medium cowboy salsa. No, they do not make a "Hot" version, I've looked into this already. This salsa has been a component of the Santa Maria style bbq and the centerpiece for any McLintocks steakhouse meal on the coast. You can drown Bakersfield in the quantity of this specific salsa I consumed growing up. Picked up this jar from the Vons in SLO for $6.00. My girlfriend was reluctant about this salsa initially, but quickly turned and fell in love with this classic central coast staple.
REVIEW: Jar opens to a red, even consistency, with good density that remains thick on the chip, unlike the San Luis Salsa Co. Though, similar to the San Luis Salsa Co., in terms of usability, McLintocks has less of an intense and robust flavor, proving to be a better meal accent rather than focal point. Good camping and bbqing garnish salsa. Excellently paired with a meat dish where you don't want the salsa to dominate the meal. Expect tomato dominance, with celery crunch and minor jalapeno heat. A strong shelf life because of the included preservatives. This is your quintessential cowboy salsa, more liquid, almost tomato paste looking with minimal spice (3 out of 10 on my spice scale) even though this is a medium heat salsa (and the company doesn't make a hot variety). The jar is not chip friendly.
Ingredients include: Diced tomato, tomato paste, celery, onion, green pepper, water, salt, jalapeno, cayenne, red pepper flakes, sodium benzoate (preservative), potassium sorbate, black pepper and vinegar.
RUNNIN' DOG RANCH SALSA COMPANY - SPICY ★★★★
A newcomer to the Central Coast salsa empire, not sure about the salsa brand name, it makes me think the salsa is produced by a dog kennel. The website specifies the dog ranch as family acreage for their labs, so that's makes for a quaint salsa production setting. I've only started seeing this salsa around in the last year, and I recall there being a salsa tasting I attended at the California Fresh in Pismo Beach a year or two ago. It may be safe to say that this company is 2015 new. I picked up my batch from Pismo's California Fresh for $6.00. You can also purchase their salsa online here.
REVIEW: A finer grade, more complex salsa with an usual ingredient base making for an untypical salsa flavor. I've never had a salsa featuring vegetable broth, which adds to the background complexity here. This is an award winner salsa for Running Dog Ranch, it should be noted. I love the generosity of the manufacture including all the spices used in production, showcasing complex textures with minor sweet, little savory and major spicy notes. The spiciest salsa of the bunch with good, lingering heat leading from the sweet initial essence (I give a 5 out of 10 on my spicy scale, comparable to, say, a spicy Chinese dinner). The heat remains well after the other flavors have left the palate. This would be a great crudite relish, worthy of dabbing a veggie tray or with a pico heavy breakfast burrito. Although you don't directly taste the mango or citrus, it's that sweetness you get from the initial dip. This is as about as hot as I would want to go with this salsa brand as the heat tends to drive beyond the flavor. I've read and heard anecdotally that the hottest salsa they produce (called Fire Dog) is a true mouth scorcher. I have other things to taste today, so I'm going to pass on that for now.
Ingredients include: tomatoes, tomato sauce, yellow onion, jalapeno, mango, yellow peppers, green onions, cilantro, pasilla peppers, lemon and lime juice, garlic, vegetable broth, serrano peppers, seasoning includes: salt, pepper, garlic salt, chili powder, cayenne pepper, paprika.
CHRIS' MOM'S SALSA ★★★★
This salsa came highly recommended from various friends around SLO. I found it at Lincoln Deli in SLO for $5.00. I've meant to drop by Lincoln Deli and check out what many people consider their favorite SLO deli sandwich, for now we're remaining focused on salsa. Appropriately named, Lincoln Deli manager Chris Delgado's mother makes the salsa.
REVIEW: Similar to California Fresh's Gringo salsa. A thicker, finer chunky salsa with a strong tomato and spice flavor. Greater heat than Misty's salsa, with finer, crunchy textures, almost like a dense, rich pasta sauce (but not tomato paste heavy). Jalapeno seeds left in, so a little spicy, but completely manageable even for a non-heat person (3.5 out of 10 on my spice scale). It's also a sweeter salsa, though somewhat baffling, as the ingredients lack fruit and citrus. The carrots provide a good crunch, and I love that the salsa remains dense, but not gelatinous (sometimes the Gringo salsa at California Fresh has this unwanted consistency). This is a great chip salsa and an excellent sandwich salsa. I would like to try this with some fish and chips, due to the leading tomato and spice accents.
Ingredients include: tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, carrots, vinegar and a diverse blend of spices and herbs.
MISTY'S SALSA ★★★★★
Picked up this batch based on a recommendation. Misty's Salsa is sold at the Pismo Beach California Fresh, for about $6.25. One of the great things about California Fresh is how they make such a huge variety of salsas (and 200+ other things) on site. I've had their Gringo, Pico De Gallo and Tomatillo salsas, of which, I admit my now-dethroned affection for the well made and simple Pico. The Gringo salsa is also fantastic, which echoes Chris' Mom's Salsa -- though of the two, I prefer Chris' Mom's Salsa over the California Fresh Gringo, thanks to odd jelly consistencies I've encountered in the Gringo.
REVIEW: A more traditional salsa with easy-does-it spiciness (4 out of 10 on my spice scale). Lot's of chunks of vegetables with a finer and even consistency throughout. The tomatoes used are of good quality, and the salsa has a deep red color to match, like roma or on-the-vine cherry tomatoes. Olive oil makes a surprising appearance, which makes me want to attempt my own salsa batch with olive oil, producing a stabler stick-together consistency, holding well to the surface of the chip. This salsa makes for a delicious California bruschetta topper on some French bread crostini. Complex and savory, with pleasant bitter and tangy notes, this salsa's overall taste has a Mediterranean, specifically Italian nod, but nowhere runny pasta-sauce like. An excellent salsa, perfect for tri-tip, dashing on a primavera pasta, or simply with tortilla chips. This salsa comes highly recommended.
Ingredients include tomatoes, green chilies, red onions, vinegar, garlic, olive oil, cilantro, garlic salt and other spices.
SAN LUIS OBISPO SALSA CO. - ORIGINAL | MILD ★★★★★
San Luis Obispo made, you can buy it here, though I picked up my jar in California Fresh, Pismo Beach for $6.00. The folks at San Luis Salsa Co. have been making salsa for, you know what, their website doesn't indicate this sort of valuable information, so I'm going to say they've been doing it for a few years considering I only heard about the salsa and seeing it around at most a few years.
REVIEW: This is my top pick of the group. Although a wetter salsa, consistency out of the jar is largely liquid, completely mild spice and a traditional cowboy salsa, the flavor is delicious and bold. Tomatoes, onions, garlic and cilantro lead the palate with a nod of sweetness. A great tri-tip, chicken or pork salsa. It's also a simpler, more savory salsa, similar to McLintocks above. No fire and minimal-to-no heat spiciness, but stands out as a great everyday salsa, one that would be hard to get tired of over the years. It's the kind of salsa you were raised with or that showed up at your company and family events in a massive ceramic bowl where everyone hangs near diving chips. This salsa comes highly recommended, though its jar is not chip friendly, making it harder to take on the go. When I finished tasting all the salsas, which were not done in the order they appear in this review, the first salsa I returned to was San Luis Salsa Co. Original. A quintessential salsa that relies on delicious, fresh ingredients and doesn't go crazy with sweetness or vinegar. Perfect for the family bbq.
Ingredients include water, tomato paste & puree, jalapeno, garlic, onion, cilantro, green chili peppers, vinegar, salt, spices + sugar. No preservatives.
HONORABLE MENTIONS - UPCOMING SALSA REVIEWS
I did my best to track down as many critically praised locally made salsas for this review, but I know I missed a few, which only means I get to do this salsa flight again in a couple weeks. I have enough salsa in my house to drown a cowboy so I need to give it a break on that front.
LA CASITA (LOS OSOS): I didn't get to make it out to Los Osos for some La Casita Mexican restaurant salsa - If you bring your own big mason jar, they'll fill it up for a few bucks. Here's their website.
BEST EVER SALSA CO. (NORTH COUNTY SLO): Newcomer to the SLO salsa empire, I just read a piece about this new salsa producer, even though they are apparently selling in my home California Fresh market in Pismo Beach. I'll be swinging by and grabbing a jar of this and the La Casita to give them an upcoming review in the next few weeks.
Thanks to the talented Jaclyn at the Cooking Classy blog for letting us use the tasty salsa gif.