Salsa de Chile de Arbol

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Salsa de chile de arbol with its ingredients
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Even though salsa de chile de arbol, arbol salsa, might seem exotic to some, I am betting you will be familiar with this salsa once you make it.

Salsa de chile de arbol is that really picante salsa you will see in practically every Mexican restaurant in America. You know, the one you challenge your friends to try, and, hopefully the one you like better than the humdrum pico de gallo sitting next to it.

At its core, arbol salsa is simply chiles, garlic, a little tomato and tomatillo, maybe a little onion and Mexican oregano, and lime juice or vinegar to brighten it up. If it sounds like a pureed pico de gallo, it’s kinda close. No cilantro, and, well, you need arbol chiles.

Arbol means tree in Spanish, and if you’ve ever grown these chiles, you’ll understand: The plant grows very tall, up to five feet in my garden, and it littered with chiles that ripen from green to red that are about the size of your pinkie finger, or a touch smaller. So it looks like a Christmas tree with red ornaments.

Arbol chiles are thin-walled, a bit citrusy and most definitely picante. They are good fresh but since they dry so well, you usually see them that way. In Latin markets you will see them in big bags either simply dried, or pre-toasted. Either is fine here, but if you buy the pre-toasted ones, you can skip the step of toasting the chiles for this salsa.

Ingredients for salsa de chile de arbol
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

To my mind, a really good salsa de chile de arbol is made with toasted or charred ingredients: The chiles, the tomatoes and tomatillos, the onion and garlic. That extra step adds so much to the flavor that even though this is a spicy salsa, you will want to keep eating it.

You can char everything in the broiler if you want, but I prefer to char them on a comal, which is a cast iron pan with low sides, like a skillet; a cast iron pan is fine, too. One tip to charring the vegetables is to get the pan very hot first, so you get an almost instant sear. You want some blackening. Actually you want a lot of it.

Whether you seed your arbol chiles is up to you. I don’t, but I like things hot. Deseeding will make your salsa a bit milder.

Use your salsa de chile de arbol with tortilla chips (totopos), or on any taco. You can find all my taco recipes here, and I have another whole page full of great salsas and sauces here.

Once made, this salsa will keep a couple weeks in the fridge.

arbol salsa recipe
4.84 from 12 votes

Salsa de Chile de Arbol

This is a smooth hot salsa that hinges on arbol chiles. You of course use other dried chiles if you want, but then it will not be an arbol salsa -- but it'll still be good.
Course: Condiment, Sauce
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 10
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 3/4 ounce dried, toasted arbol chiles, 20 grams
  • 1/2 pound plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1/4 pound tomatillos, husked and slice in half
  • 1 small white onion, peeled and sliced in quarters
  • 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • Juice of a lime
  • Salt to taste

Instructions 

  • Get your comal or pan very hot. If your arbol chiles are not already toasted, arrange them in one layer in the hot pan and let them toast about 15 to 30 seconds -- not too long, or they will get bitter. Turn them over to toast the other side, then move them to the bowl of your blender.
  • Arrange the tomatoes, onion, tomatillos, and garlic cloves on the hot pan, cut side down. Let them char for a solid 5 to 10 minutes. Try to move them after 5 minutes with a metal spatula, and if they are still stuck to the pan, let them be another minute or two until they release. Once the cut sides of the tomatoes and tomatillos are charred, move them to the blender. Flip the onions and garlic to char a little on the other side.
  • When the onions and garlic are nicely charred a bit, move them to a cutting board. Peel the garlic and put the cloves in the blender. Roughly chop the onion and put that in the blender. Add the lime juice, a pinch of salt and about 1/4 cup of water. Puree, adding more water if you need to make a smooth, pourable sauce. Adjust for salt and serve.

Nutrition

Calories: 20kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 4mg | Potassium: 144mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 765IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 6mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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15 Comments

  1. This was amazing!
    Made these to share with my home made tamales and it was such a hit!
    Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. For me this is is a condiment salsa not a salsa for dipping corn chips. The flavor is absolutely amazing on scrambled eggs with cheese in a tortilla or on any taco. But just a dab will do!

  3. Wow. Great flavor but it ate the surface of my mouth off. I even cut the peppers down to 15 gms and seeded about a third of them. I will make it again and try to wean the peppers down more. I am still sweating!

  4. Chile de Arbol, the workhorse of the Mexican kitchen. Truly a tasty little chile, but they can be VERY hot. This recipe is identical to mine, but, I finally started removing the seeds from at least half of the chiles because I was setting my family and dinner guests on fire! LOL. Also, I’d like to point out that way back when I first started making this salsa, I used green tomatoes from my garden in place of the tomatillos, because I had an abundance of them. Turned out GREAT! So, if you’ve still got some green tomatoes hanging around on the vine (like I do), it’s a really good way to use ’em up.

    1. I added a couple guajillo peppers for a nice color. Also san marzano tomatoes really compliment this salsa.

    1. Maura: I think so. I am pretty sure it is acidic enough for water bath canning, but I can definitely tell you that it works when pressure canned.

  5. Love the recipe.
    You might want to warn neophyte pepper handlers that heating (even dried) peppers can cause some pretty lethal fumes if they don’t have a very good exhaust fan, perhaps a respirator and safety goggles as well….

  6. To char the ingredients, makes a huge difference in flavor. Instead of stovetop or oven, I use the charcoal grill, more specifically, the chimney. Takes very little lump and time to boost the flavor profile. Thanks for posting one of my favorite recipes.