For the last year or so I've been in search of a good red salsa picante recipe that would be like the kind you find at a Mexican taco stand -- spicy, fairly thin consistency, but with seeds and small chunks. I'm not talking about Tapatio or one of those homogenous "hot sauces", nor am I talking about American "salsa" of the Old El Paso variety. I've tried a bunch of recipes, some tomato-based, some not, but have never really nailed it. It's possible that the typical salsa picante you get at a taco stand is actually a commercial product but it would be awesome to duplicate it at home.
The attached image is roughly what I'm looking for (the right one, obviously).
Any suggestions or pointers?
You're looking for cooked salsas or those made with dried chiles, so there are many variations. One of my favorite salsas roja that I make often is from CH - Eat Nopal's Tomatillo, Garlic, Ancho & Arbol Salsa:
A red salsa like that is a cooked salsa. You can roast your own tomatoes (?) but I would use canned.
Here is a recipe that I like.
In a small skillet, dry roast 4 serrano chilis and 3 unpeeled gloves of garlic until soft and slotchy black in spots (about 10 - 15 mins). Chop a white onion and, using a strainer, rinse under cold water, drain well. Pull the stems off the chilis and the peels off the garlic and put in a blender or food processor with the chopped onion. Process until finely chopped. Add one 15 oz can of roasted tomatoes with their juice and process until smooth. To finish, add the juice of 1/2 lime, salt to taste and some finely chopped cilantro.
The sauce pictured above is probably something as simple as blended chile de arbol and tomato, perhaps thinned with water. It could also be a blend of several dried chiles - de arbol, guajillo, ancho, new mexican etc. The only 'trick' is to toast, hydrate, blend and strain the chile sauce first to remove any skins.
IMO one of the best parts of a taqueria is trying out as many salsas as possible, then trying to reverse engineer them. If you will stray from a pure chile de arbol based recipe, how about this one:
Any decent taqueria would NEVER use a commercial salsa. The latter ones have that terrible cooked taste, not to mention fillers and high cost. Mexican salsas are usually not cooked although the ingredients may be roasted. The main 'players' are almost always chile (fresh or dried) and tomato (or tomatillo); other ingredients play a supporting role.
If the Chow search engine fails you from finding goodness in the Recipe area or Home Cooking board, Google will help out a lot. Visiting a library and checking out Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless cookbooks would be helpful.
As you know, Tapatio is fine for adding a little heat to random dishes of all ethnicities - much better than that tannic Tabasco stuff.
Everyone, please Stay the Heck away from American brand bottled 'Mexican style' sauces like Old El Paso, Pace, Taco Hell etc. These products seem to be aimed at Bubba for scooping with packaged chips (also not Mexican). What a waste of good spices and vegetables!