Backyard, farm-stand, and supermarket summertime tomatoes alike should be sweet, juicy, and ready for top billing in a fresh tomato salsa. But even in the midst of tomato season, some can be less than stellar. Complicating matters, salsa's popularity has opened the door to versions employing extravagant (smoked paprika) and extraneous (canned tomato juice) ingredients, relegating fresh tomatoes to a minor role.
We wanted a fresh, chunky Mexican-style salsa, or salsa cruda, that would emphasize the tomatoes; the other traditional flavors--lime, garlic, onion, chile, and cilantro--would have supporting roles. We also wanted to get the texture just right for scooping up and balancing on a tortilla chip.
To solve the problem of watery salsa, we tried numerous techniques before stumbling upon one that worked: draining diced tomatoes (skin, seeds, and all) in a colander. This simple technique put all tomatoes, regardless of origin, ripeness, or juiciness, on a level--and dry--playing field. With the main technique established, we fixed the spotlight on the supporting ingredients. Red onions were preferred over white, yellow, and sweet onions for color and flavor. Jalapeno chiles were chosen over serrano, habanero, and poblano chiles because of their wide availability, slight vegetal flavor, and moderate heat. Lime juice tasted more authentic (and better) than red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, or lemon juice. We also investigated the best way to combine the ingredients and rejected all but the simplest technique: We chopped the chile, onion, garlic, and cilantro and layered each ingredient on top of the tomatoes while they drained in the colander. Once the tomatoes were finished draining, the chile, onion, garlic, cilantro, and tomatoes needed just a few stirs before being immediately finished with the lime juice, sugar, and salt, and then served.