The best red salsas I've had on the street are a deep, rusty brick color, and they taste definitively of dried chiles, acid and salt. Most people use a combination of dried arbol chiles-the hottest dried chile in the markets-and guajillo or cascabel, which paint the salsa a gorgeous deep-red color. In this simple version, I keep the tomatoes to a minimum and omit onion, so the chiles can shine brighter. It's tongue-swellingly hot, which makes it perfect on just about anything. I've called for eight dried arbol chiles, but you can bump it up to ten for even more fire.
1 Snip off the stems of the chiles and shake out their seeds as best you can. If the chiles are too dry and brittle, warm them slightly on a gently heated comal, and then remove the seeds. Alternately, keep the seeds in to make a very hot salsa.
2 Heat the comal on low to medium-low and place the unpeeled garlic cloves near the edge of the pan, away from direct heat. Turn occasionally until soft and blackened in spots, 5 to 7 minutes. Peel the garlic cloves once cool enough to handle and set aside in a blender jar.
3 To toast the chiles, work with one at a time so they don't burn. Place each chile near the edge of the comal-again, away from the hottest part of the pan-and turn constantly for 5 to 10 seconds, pressing any wrinkled or folded spots lightly so all parts of the chile skin come into contact with the pan. They are done when the color lightens up in spots and they emit a spicy aroma. (This is a very quick process!) Remove all toasted chiles to a separate bowl and cover with water. Let sit 15 minutes or until the skins are soft. Reserve the soaking water.
4 While the chiles sit, heat the comal to medium or medium-high. Cook the whole tomatoes, turning often with tongs, until soft and blackened in spots. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
5 Add the hydrated chiles to the blender jar (with the garlic), with 2 tablespoons of the reserved chile water and a generous 1/4 cup water. Blend until smooth. Add the tomatoes and 2 tablespoons more water, plus 3/4 teaspoon salt. Blend again, adding more water and salt if desired. (Note that the saltiness will mute when the still-warm salsa cools.) Serve at room temperature.
Just make sure you choose real guajillos and not, as can occasionally happen in the United States, colorados mislabeled as guajillos. The thinner-skinned colorados will make the salsa taste too sweet, and the color won't be as deep red.
"Eat Mexico" by Lesley Tellez (c) Kyle Books 2015. Provided courtesy of Lesley Tellez. All rights reserved.