Salsa Mexicana (Pico de Gallo)

Over the July 4th weekend, I made a few recipes from Chef Alex Stupak's cookbook, Tacos, and ended up with leftovers that were destined to become breakfast. It's a crime to waste a single bite of red chorizo made with Peads & Barnetts pork, toasted guajillo chiles, and freshly ground spices. It's also a crime to not make enough for the freezer...note to self. I decided to fry a few corn tortillas and top them with chorizo, potatoes, avocado, cotija cheese, cilantro, and a fried egg. What really brought the dish together though was a last-minute addition of Salsa Mexicana (aka pico de gallo). The brightness and acidity woke all of the flavors up and balanced out the richness of the other ingredients.

Pico de gallo is a humble salsa that's often pushed to the side or thoughtlessly stuffed into a small to-go container. When done right, this unfussy recipe brings a ton of flavor to the table so it deserves some respect. The key to great Salsa Mexicana is quality ingredients. Specifically, the tomatoes must be in season, ripe, and have a nice balance of acidity and sweetness. If the tomatoes are lacking, the salsa ends up tasting like a mouthful of onion and cilantro with a sad shadow of watery tomato flavor. No thanks. On that note, I happened across a recipe that suggested using canned tomatoes in place of fresh when necessary. I would like to politely disagree with that idea. If tomatoes aren't in season, make something else and look forward to having pico de gallo when spring and summer return. Food anticipation is the spice of life.

All tomato preaching aside, this recipe comes together in 5-10 minutes and the smell will instantly make your mouth water. The juice that spills out of the bowl is good enough to drink and fantastic drizzled over breakfast tacos, eggs, you name it.

Tomatoes at the Santa Monica Farmers Market

Original vs Adapted


As mentioned above, pico de gallo was a last-minute addition to our breakfast so I eyeballed the measurements while referencing the Tacos recipe. The beauty of this salsa is that you can taste and adjust on the fly until the desired flavor is reached. It's hard to screw it up if you have good ingredients.

Tomato Texture

The original recipe calls for plum tomatoes but I went with Early Girl since the flavor is fantastic right now and they have a great texture (also, that's what was sitting on my counter). The ideal tomato for this dish is one that's meaty without being too juicy. When you add salt to tomatoes, water and various flavor compounds are drawn out of the fruit's cells. A super juicy tomato won't maintain its structure in that environment and the extracted juices will create a salsa that's too watery.

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from local California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the talented folks who contributed to this dish.

Ingredients (Adapted from Tacos)

  • 2-3 Early Girl or plum tomatoes, small chop Note: I used Early Girl.
  • 1-2 jalapeños or serrano chiles, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped Note: My jalapeño was quite large so I only used one. If you like heat, by all means leave some ribs and seeds in. Just be sure to taste the pepper beforehand to ensure that you know what you're getting into since all peppers are not created equal.
  • 1 small/medium garlic clove, minced or grated
  • 1/2 medium white onion, small chop
  • 1 lime
  • 1-2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro Note: The original recipe calls for 40 cilantro leaves but I was in a rush and didn't count. That being said, I love how specific Chef Stupak is.
  • 1/2 teaspoon flake-style salt, more to taste
  • A couple cranks of freshly ground pepper, to taste


  • In a bowl, add the chiles, garlic, 2-3 tablespoons of mined onion, and the tomatoes.
  • Squeeze half of the lime over the tomato mixture. Note: I like to squeeze the lime into a small bowl first so the seeds can be removed.
  • Sprinkle the flake-style salt over the salsa, add the cilantro, freshly ground pepper, then gently toss to combine.
  • Taste and adjust. More onion, salt, lime?
  • Refrigerate if not using right away. Note: The tomatoes start to break down so it's better to eat it sooner rather than later. I wouldn't recommend storing it overnight.

Enjoy summer!

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