We did it — we cracked the code. True, it was years ago, but I still do a little victory dance whenever I think about it this Papalote Roasted Tomato Salsa.
When I moved to San Francisco and in the first days of my life as a recipe tester, my then-boss was obsessed with figuring out how to make the Roasted Tomato Salsa from his favorite taqueria, Papalote Mexican Grill.
Mexican Food In San Francisco
And he was right to love the place. The mention of Mexican food and San Francisco brings to mind the Mission-Style burrito, which is an iconic California dish. This stuffed-to-the-gills burrito is a purely San Francisco creation, and locals will hotly pledge allegiance to their preferred taquería (La Taqueria and El Farolito are often top contenders).
But what is a great taco or burrito without an equally awesome salsa? Well, the Papalote Roasted Tomato Salsa is that. It’s hot but not too, balanced in its sweetness and tang, has a welcome char, and, most importantly, improves everything it touches. But don’t take my word, even Bobby Flay claimed the salsa was a “secret weapon” during an episode of “Beat Bobby Flay.”
Testing This Roasted Tomato Salsa
We bought batch after batch after batch and dissected what it was or was not. The texture, thanks to a generous blend, tomatoes charred until collapsing. In short, it uses a lot of the same techniques we see over and over when we travel to Mexico but executed consistently at this San Francisco spot.
Through trying to replicate it, I learned the ins and outs of timing, weighing, and all the other nit-picky stuff that makes up test kitchen life. It took countless batches, taste tests, and chip dipping, but we cracked the code on this homemade version of our favorite Papalote-Inspired Roasted Tomato Salsa recipe.
This Is Not The Official Recipe
The truth is, we never got the official recipe from the Escobedos, and if you look at the label of their salsa jar (now for sale online and at Bay Area markets!), you’ll see they don’t have pumpkin seeds like we do. Even so, I stand by it being a great dupe. So, even if you don’t live near the taquería, you can still try it for yourself at home.
How To Use This Papalote Roasted Tomato Salsa
We like this salsa in classic applications like atop tacos or sandwiches in a tortilla with cheese. But it has also made its way onto entrees like cedar planked salmon, spatchcock chicken or as an accompaniment to roasted mushroom fundido.
Papalote Homemade Roasted Tomato Salsa Recipe
- 5 medium Roma tomatoes cored and halved
- 10 medium dried chile de arbol stemmed, halved lengthwise, and seeded
- 1 medium dried pasilla chile stemmed, halved lengthwise, and seeded
- 2 tablespoons shelled pumpkin or sunflower seeds
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon unrefined cane sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions (aka scallions)
- 1/4 cup packed finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Toast The Chiles: Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Arrange chiles on baking sheet and the pumpkin seeds in a small ovenproof pan and toast the chiles until fragrant and puffed, about 5 minutes and the pepitas until golden brown, about 10 minutes.Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- Char The Tomatoes: Heat the broiler to high and arrange a rack in the middle. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, then place the tomatoes. Broil the tomatoes until the skins are slightly charred. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Simmer The Tomatoes: Place the roasted tomatoes and toasted chiles in a large stainless steel pan over high heat. Add the salt, sugar, and water and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced slightly and thickened, about 20 minutes.
- Finish The Salsa: Add the vinegar to the tomato mixture and cook for 1 minute. Carefully place one-third to one-half of the mixture in a blender, add the toasted pumpkin seeds, scallions, and cilantro, remove the plug on the blender top so it lets off heat, then carefully blend until smooth. (You will have to do this in batches. Do not fill the blender beyond its capacity or it will shoot salsa everywhere in your kitchen!)Pour the salsa into an airtight resealable container, taste, and add more salt, pepper, or vinegar, as desired. Refrigerate uncovered until thoroughly chilled before serving, at least 2 hours.TIP: Salsa can be made up to 4 days ahead of time. Store refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.