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I have been playing with homemade salsa for a few weeks now and I can't seem to figure out how to get that thicker tomato texture that a lot of southern Mexican restaurants have.

Right now I play with these ingredients:

  1. Tomatoes
  2. Onion
  3. Jalapeño
  4. Cilantro
  5. Lime Juice
  6. Garlic Salt/Cumin

This seems pretty basic stuff for salsa, but it has a pretty water'd down feel no matter how I swing it. How do I get the tomato base that some of the classic salsa's have in order for everything to hold on the chip a little better?

Update

I really wanted to accept two answers because I like both depending on what I am doing. For a fresh salsa(pico de gallo) straining the juice from the tomatoes seems to work really well. But for the thickness I was going for the key was experimenting with Tomato Paste/Cooking the salsa. I am able to get a much thicker salsa that I enjoy much more. I did learn how to create killer pico de gallo from this though.

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are you doing a raw or cooked salsa? You have to cook it to activate the pectin in the tomatoes if you want it to get thick like salsa from a jar –  Joe Sep 29 '10 at 0:52
    
Thick salsa is made by cooking the tomatoes or using the already cooked tomatoes from a can of tomato sauce, as @Joe pointed out. –  papin Sep 29 '10 at 2:33
    
@Joe/papin I've been doing raw, but I am a newbie. Didn't think about cooking the tomatoes! I think this is what I was looking for, surprised you didn't answer the question. Going to try this, and Martha's solution out and see which ones turn out better for me. :) –  jsmith Sep 29 '10 at 13:35

12 Answers 12

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There's a few types of salsa -- salsa fresca (aka pico de gallo, aka salsa cruda), which is "fresh salsa" and uncooked, and if made fresh, it shouldn't be too watery (unless you add to much liquid, eg, lime juice), but letting the vegetables sit after salting will start to draw out extra liquid and could become watery.

For truly thick salsa, you have to treat it like a jam, and cook it to release the pectin in the tomato. (or I guess you could use some other thickeners ... I've never tried. tomato paste, maybe?) You don't necessarily have to cook the other ingredients, too, but I personally like roasting the peppers and onions to sweeten then up and remove some of the extra liquid. (halve the peppers and seed them, lay them on a tray cut side up with the onion cut into wedges, roast 'til they're softened, then dump into a food processor and either pulse or liquify it, depending on how chunky you like it. And the skin falls off the peppers, so I leave 'em out).

You can do the same roasting with the tomatoes, and it'll be thicker from the food processor, but you won't get the same cling without letting them cook slowly in liquid to develop the pectin. If you roast the tomatoes, I like to use plum tomatoes, as they have more "meat" to the gel around the seeds, and take out the gel and seeds.

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Have you tried straining the salsa? Put it in a coffee filter or in some cheesecloth in a sieve sitting over a bowl. Let drain until the salsa's the texture you want.

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6  
Yep, that's what I would do. I don't think you even need the coffee filter or cheesecloth, just dump it in a sieve and let it drain awhile. Or you could do that just to the tomatoes, after tossing them with a little salt, since that is where the bulk of the water is. Or you could remove the seed part of the tomatoes and use only the flesh. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Sep 29 '10 at 4:19
    
Adversely effect the flavor and remove nutrients? Wouldn't at all be my choice. –  zanlok Jan 28 '11 at 19:31
    
Need to try this, I am in India and I can't find Jalapeños –  Kumar Apr 22 '11 at 19:48
    
I've seen a lot of people chop the tomatoes, salt them, and then let them drain before combining with other ingredients. It eliminates the main culprit of excess water and concentrates the tomato flavor. I probably wouldn't strain the complete salsa though... –  sourd'oh Sep 5 '13 at 17:03

Adding some Okra can thicken it up, it can also add an interesting texture to the final product if you like chunky salsas.

Time will also help, although reduces chunkiness. As it cooks down the result is smoother and thicker. Tomato paste will help it thicken more quickly and allow you to keep larger chunks of tomato as you go.

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If you remove the liquid and seeds from your tomatoes, that should increase the chunkiness. Also to remove liquid from tomatoes, consider giving them a whirl in a salad spinner.

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If it's a salsa that you want avocado in, a relatively soft avocado cut up and mixed in will kind of dissolve, and thicken things up a bit.

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Just chop tomatoes roughly and leave them in a strainer overnight in the fridge. It helps your salsa to have a better consistency.

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people If you want to make thick salsa all you have to do is cook in a pot like normal and then put in a frying pan and cook just the water out not the juice from the fruit!!!! You can cook it down as thick as you want with out looseing any flavor.

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Salsa is normally raw, but as the accepted answer from Joe mentions, you can cook it to thicken it. What does your answer add to his two year latter on? What is the word "people" doing at the start? –  TFD Aug 21 '12 at 2:23

add corn starch.....slowly like making gravy......its in a couple recipes i looked at and i also tried it for mylself and it works

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Uncooked corn starch is not a very effective thickener? Are you sure you have actually tried this? Normally uncooked corn starch will just settle to the bottom of a liquid, and form a dilatant paste –  TFD Aug 21 '12 at 0:42
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@chad I would update your answer to explain the complete thickening process using corn starch. I'm guessing you are implying that this is to be added during cooking? –  jsmith Aug 21 '12 at 13:44
    
I was just pondering over the cornstarch theory, and if you were to strain the liquid off the mixture through a sieve as previously suggested, you could heat the liquid in a pan and thicken with cornstarch in the conventional way, and add it to the mixture once it's cooled. Anyway I'm going to try that, as I've got quite a lot of liquid here and it would be a shame to throw it! –  user16934 Feb 22 '13 at 16:13

Roasted Nopales work well, especially when puréed and they add a nuttiness that is a nice complement to most salsas. I also agree roasting tomatoes helps, but you don't always want that. If you have a blender, emulsify a neutral oil into part of your salsa, if you want it to remain chunky leave some of the ingredients out of the blender and mix by hand. Roasted garlic. I think avocados works well but over-mellows out most salsas. That might be your thing, so try it out.

Straining, for me, is the last resort. You really don't want to lose flavor, but you could always strain the tomato water out, if you have a nice fine mesh strainer either overnight or a few hours and then reduce the liquid on high heat and reintroduce into your salsa.

Blending nuts, particularly pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and other neutral nuts into a paste and introducing that into your salsa will work quite well too. Think molés. Oh, and of course chocolate, but not that sweet stuff. Use mexican chocolate or a nice dark unsweetened bakers chocolate.

There are many ways to improve the mouth feel of salsa, I only mention the ones that come to mind as readily done in the home.

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I strain out part of the juice and can it in jars to add to chili later, it's spicy and flavorful and I would not care to throw it away.

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I drain the excess liquid and use it to make spaghetti sauce.

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I drain my liquid after it cooks down for about 2 hrs, then can the juice to be used in soups,spagetti, etc.

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