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Saucy Salsa

By Philip Johnson

April 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd. All rights reserved. 

Traditionally a Latin American accompaniment, salsas can be chunky or smooth and provide zest alongside any dish IF ever you've been stuck for something to do for a meal and need a quick and easy solution to turn a boring piece of meat or seafood into a masterpiece, look no further than your crisper and pantry.

With the most basic of ingredients you can create a tasty and hearty salsa that will be a great accompaniment to just about anything.

The cooking term "salsa" derives from the Spanish word for "sauce".

The translation can be a little misleading, though, as salsas have a tendency to be thicker and chunkier than what you might expect from a sauce, they are better described as a condiment or relish.

Consisting of a mixture of chopped vegetables, fruits (usually tomatoes), spices and seasonings, a salsa can be used either cooked or uncooked, depending on the ingredients.

You'll find the same term used quite a bit in some European cuisines, though as with a commonly used sauce such as salsa verde, they tend more to be blended or pureed.

Traditionally, salsas were native to Mexico, Central America and the neighbouring islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, with more traditional recipes based on onions, garlic, tomatoes and, most importantly, chillies.

The use of chillies and other spices came from the Spanish and Indian influence on the cuisines of these countries and the basic Latin American philosophy was to add depth and flavour to any dish or to give extra zip to a sauce.

Modern cuisine has been quick to pick up on this in the past 10 years or so and the dramatic rise in popularity of salsas also could be attributed to the increased awareness of diet and nutrition.

Salsas are generally low in cholesterol, fat and calories, though still big on flavour, something a lot of people believe is lost when labelled "diet" and "low-fat".

As with a lot of cooking terms these days, current food trends and modern versions of more traditional cuisines have seen the term salsa take on a more general meaning.

As you can see by this week's recipes, creating a delicious salsa is really only limited by your imagination. Just about anything can be transformed into a salsa and they are great served either as a garnish, condiment or side dish and even as a dip. The most popular and well-known salsa would have to be guacamole.

View Philip Johnson's recipes on our website: CHICKEN TENDERLOINS WITH CORN AND CHILLI SALSA Serves 6 Corn and chilli salsa: 3 corn cobs Olive oil 2 chillies, seeds removed and diced 1 small red onion, diced Zest of 1 lime Juice of 2 limes 1 cup coriander leaves, chopped 18 large chicken tenderloins, cleaned and trimmed if necessary Salt/freshly ground black pepper Clean corn and cut kernels from the cob. Saute in a non-stick or heavy-based frying pan with a little olive oil, salt and black pepper. Continue to cook until some colour is achieved and kernels have softened. Remove from pan and spread corn on a flat tray to cool.

Once corn has cooled, mix in a bowl with chilli, onion, lime zest and juice, coriander and enough olive oil to moisten. Check seasoning.

Season chicken tenderloins with salt and black pepper. Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat and cook tenderloins. Set aside and keep warm.

To serve, arrange tenderloins on plates with a spoonful of corn salsa and fresh lime.

Note: Chicken tenderloins sometimes are referred to as fillets.

Karri Grove Verdelho $12-$16; Neagles Rock Vineyards Riesling $18-$22.

FRESH SAND CRAB WITH AVOCADO SALSA Serves 6 Avocado salsa: 1/2 lemon, juice only 1/2 lime, juice only 1/2 red onion, finely diced 1/2 cup coriander leaves 2 tbs mango chutney 1 tsp sambal oelek (Indonesian salted chilli paste), or 1 medium chilli, seeds removed and finely diced Pinch cumin, roasted and ground Extra-virgin olive oil 3 avocados, halved, stone removed, peeled and diced 500g fresh crabmeat 6 baby or 3 medium cos lettuce, washed and spun 12 slices baguette Zest of 2 limes Juice of 2 limes Extra-virgin olive oil Salt/freshly ground black pepper For salsa, combine the citrus juices, onion, coriander leaves, chutney, sambal oelek and ground cumin in a bowl. Add a splash of extra-virgin olive oil then gently fold in diced avocado flesh. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

To serve, drizzle baguette slices with olive oil and grill both sides. Place picked crab meat in a bowl and lightly toss with lime zest and juice, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper. Place cos wedges on plate, place a spoonful of avocado salsa alongside with a spoonful of seasoned crab and toasted baguette.

Evans & Tate Gnangara Sauvignon Blanc $11-$15; Henschke Julius Eden Valley Riesling $25-$30.

GRILLED WHITE FISH WITH GREEN OLIVE SALSA AND CHUNKY FRIES Serves 6 Green olive salsa: 1 small red onion, diced 1 salted lemon, pulp removed and diced 2 tbs capers, well rinsed 1/2 cup green olives, sliced Juice and zest of 1 lemon Extra-virgin olive oil Large potatoes, steamed, skin on and cooled overnight in fridge Oil for deep frying 6 x 180g fish fillet portions, such as barramundi, snapper or blue-eye cod Flour, for dusting Clarified butter Salt/freshly ground black pepper To salt lemons, place 4 lemons in a pan that fits lemons snugly, add 125g Maldon sea salt and enough water (approximately 750ml or 3 cups) to cover them. Invert a small plate over lemons to keep them submerged. Bring to boil and let simmer for 20 minutes or until skins are soft. Drain and cool before storing in a covered container in refrigerator (they'll keep for about two weeks). To use, scrape out and discard the flesh and dice the skin finely.

For the green olive salsa, combine all ingredients and check seasoning.

For fries, peel potatoes and cut into thick fries. Heat oil to 180C in a deep fryer or large saucepan. Fry potatoes into batches until crisp and golden. Drain on absorbent paper.

For fish, preheat grill to hot. Dust fish with flour, shake off excess. Place fish on greased oven tray, brush with clarified butter and season with salt and black pepper. Grill fish until just cooked, approximately 8 minutes.

To serve, place fish on plate with chips alongside and a spoonful of olive salsa.

Saltram Semillon $8-$12; Pieropan Soave Classico Superiore $25-$30.

Recommended by Ian White and the team from Philip Johnson's e'cco bistro in Brisbane.

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