Pico de Gallo

6 Jul

Not only is pico de gallo delicious, it's also beautiful.

First of all, this post will be shorter than the last one, I promise. I got really excited to actually write my first entry about food, and pizza has a lot of moving parts, and before I knew it I was up to like 2500 words. Woops. Anyways, some of you may be wondering why right around the 4th of July I decided to make pico de gallo, which is Mexican. First and foremost, pico is particularly delicious, especially in the summer time. Secondly, when you’re from Texas, Mexican food is every bit as American as any other kind of cuisine.

If you’re feeling really cocky, you can make some homemade tortilla chips to have with this pico. Also, if you have a lot left over, it is freaking magical mixed with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Alright, let’s go ahead and get started. Because the ingredients themselves are really simple, I’m going to use pico to teach you how I cut different things. I’ve developed/stolen some pretty cool knife tricks, and I like sharing them with people. Does that mean that my way of cutting onions is the only way to do it? Of course not. But it’s probably faster than yours.

Stuff

I forgot to put one ingredient in this picture. Do you know which one?

8 medium roma tomatoes (romas are still crazy cheap here, so I’m using them. Again, use whatever tomatoes make you happy)

2 yellow onions

3 medium jalapeños

4 cloves of garlic

3 limes

1 bunch of cilantro

1 t. cumin

1 T. salt

1 t. pepper

Steps

Wash everything that isn’t salt pepper or cumin. I don’t wash garlic, but apparently some people do, so to each his or her own. Really, making pico isn’t cooking at all, but an adventure in chopping stuff, so I’m going to break down my post vegetable by vegetable.

Tomatoes

It's way easier to core a tomato that's quartered than one that's halved.

Cutting tomatoes requires either a very sharp knife or, if you’re lazy and don’t keep your knifes sharp, a serrated knife. I really recommend knives that work, though: people who have decent knives like cooking way more than people that don’t, and that’s not a coincidence.

For pico, I pull the seeds and cores out of tomatoes, but leave the skins on. (If you read my grilled pizza blog, you know I do the opposite for spaghetti sauce.) If you don’t take the seeds out of the tomatoes, your pico will be slimy and gross.

To get the core and the seeds out of a tomato, first, cut it into quarters; once you’ve done that, run the knife from the butt end of the tomato up to the stem. Cut under the stem to make sure that you get all of the core out. Remove the core section and use your fingers to clean whatever seed goo is left off of the good tomato flesh. Set the quarter aside and move on to the next one — you’ll save yourself a bunch of time if you core first and dice them all together.

Slicin' and dicin'.

Now that you have a nice set of cored and deseeded tomatoes, it’s time to dice. Take each section and cut it into thin strips. After you have stacked up a bunch of tomato strips, turn them and dice them. Put your diced tomatoes into the big bowl. Oh yeah, you’ll need a big bowl. It’s where you’ll mix everything.

Cutting tomatoes can be surprisingly frustrating, and sometimes you end up smushing more than cutting. If that’s happening, drag the point of the knife across your board, or switch to a serrated knife. If you switch to a serrated knife, buy a knife sharpening kit or put a decent chef’s knife on your birthday list.

 Onions

So, there are apparently a couple ways that people who cook for a living cut onions. My friend Lucas is partial to one, and I’m partial to the other, and it’s the source of several of our arguments. I’m going to teach you the better one.

Seriously, leave the skin on

Start with a whole onion, skin on and everything. Cut it in half, just like I did in that picture there. I just realized that continuing to try to type through how to cut up this onion would take a lot of time and just annoy you, so instead I’m going to limit  my typing to captions and just put some pictures in here.

 

Peel the skin back from the top of the onion to the root end. Always peel 1 layer deeper than you think you need to.

Once you have the skin off (but with the root still on), cut the top off of the onion, then turn it 90 degrees and cut down through all the layers, making straight and evenly spaced cuts. The root holds it all together.

So this step is optional because it's dangerous and not that important, but i like to put a few slices this direction into my onions too. It makes for a more uniform sized dice.

Now, cut your onions the most logical direction, and the pieces that fall off should be relatively uniform diced onion. Amazing, right?

So that’s how I chop onions. If you want your onions a little bit finer, run the knife over the diced onion a few times and you’ll have minced onions. Throw them in the bowl with the tomatoes, and now it’s pepper time.

Jalapeños

I love spicy food, and I sneak some kind of peppers into almost everything I cook. As such, if you’re going to cook things I do, it’s important you learn how to cut peppers. If you don’t like spicy food, use milder peppers in small amounts (don’t go totally without, they’re usually an important part of the flavor balance). Also, please, please, please do not touch your eyes or go to the bathroom while cutting jalapeños without washing your hands THOROUGHLY, or you will  be woefully sad. I have had a few really great meals ruined by the fact that I was crying or…crying because I had touched my eyes or my… with pepper oils still on my hands. Some sensitive skinned people or people dealing with large quantities of peppers even wear surgical gloves while cutting them to help prevent irritation.

I made a chart for cutting up jalapeños, because it’s way easier to show you how I cut them than to tell you. As you look at the pictures, you’ll notice I left the stems on until I deseeded the peppers. This is because having the stem to hold onto makes it easier to pull out the white middle section, which you only want to save if you want to make food that’s really spicy. Also, it doesn’t taste good raw, so just leave it out of your pico de gallo.

Throw the ‘peños in the bowl with the onions and tomato. The last thing I’m going to show you how to cut up in any detail is garlic, and then we’ll move on to assembly.

Garlic

NATHAN SMASH! But in all seriousness, tilt the sharp part of your knife blade down, so you don't cut your hand when you smack the knife blade.

So I use the smash, remove peel, then chop method for garlic. I hate garlic presses, they’re just something else to clean, and I feel like the garlic out of them tastes more like metal than it should. Also, there are a million little gizmos designed to remove peels and stuff from garlic. Lame. Do this instead.

So over there in the picture you see me smashing a clove of garlic. When you smash garlic, don’t be afraid to really use some force. After you’ve done that, pick up the knife, and you’ll find that the peel has already started to separate from the part of the garlic you actually want to eat. Remove the peel, (check to make sure little flakes of it aren’t stuck to pieces of the clove of garlic that came off in the blast) and then you’ll notice the greatest thing about this method of garlic prep: Your garlic is already halfway chopped, and you haven’t really had to do anything yet! Now, go ahead and chop it up as fine as you’d like. I like to chop my garlic pretty dang small when I’m making pico de gallo, because I want the flavor to spread evenly around the bowl. Throw the garlic in with the tomatoes onion and peppers, and now we’re on to final assembly.

Putting it all together

Take your cilantro and pluck the leaves off of the stems. I ordinarily use the stems of cilantro, but since you don’t actually cook this stuff, they’d taste a little bit too much like, well, stems. Pile up all of the leaves, and chop them up until they’re about the size of really big pieces of glitter. Cilantro kind of is the glitter of pico de gallo, because it makes everything in the bowl look pretty. Throw the cilantro into the bowl and give everything a stir.

Rollin' a lime here boss.

While there’s nothing particularly special about how to juice a lime, I do have one trick to offer that I think I learned on TV, or from my mom, or that my mom learned on TV, or something like that. Before you cut a lime, roll it around on your cutting board pushing down on it pretty  hard. this makes getting the juices out of it way easier. If you’re using a juicer, cut your limes in half, if you’re juicing by hand, cut them into quarters, and then squeeze them into the bowl. If you have limes that have a lot of seeds in them, you may want to juice them into a smaller bowl first, pick the seeds out, and then pour the juice into your pico. Nobody likes biting down on a lime seed with their chips and salsa.

Add your salt, pepper and cumin, give everything a good stir, and set it in the fridge for an hour or two so that your flavors get a chance to intermingle. Because you put salt on it, it will be much more liquidy when it comes out of the fridge than when it went in. This is not a bad thing. It’s a delicious thing.

I served this pico with some homemade fajitas with a chipotle lime marinade.

So some of this pico did get served with fajitas, like the caption says, but most of it didn’t make it that long, as buzzards ate it while I was out by the grill. Maybe you have buzzards hanging around your house when you cook, too? Anyways, I would appreciate comment feedback as to what you liked or didn’t like about the post, or even suggestions for future posts. Hope you like the pico de gallo.

Let’s Eat!

–N

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6 Responses to “Pico de Gallo”

  1. Bailey Rodriguez Patel 12 July 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    I’d know those hands anywhere.

  2. Gregoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo 13 July 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    Nom Nom Nom

  3. Carey Cooper 24 July 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    How lucky am I? I get to live with this guy for the summer (plus my husband usually does the dishes). And trust me, the food tastes even better than it looks! Thanks, Nathan!!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Fish Tacos « Redneck Fresh: A food blog - 15 July 2011

    […] Chop an onion (medium)  and de-seed and chop a jalapeño (fine), and add them to the bowl too. (Don’t remember how to chop onions or jalapeños?)  Now it’s time to make your dressing. Your slaw should look just like this. Maybe minus the […]

  2. Campechana « Redneck Fresh: A food blog - 29 August 2011

    […] 4/5 jalapeños, 6 cloves garlic, 1 lime, 1 t. salt, 1 t. pepper, and 1 t. cumin seeds) and make pico de gallo. I didn’t pull all the seeds out of the tomatoes in this pico, but I was using those […]

  3. Chicken and Sausage Gumbo « Redneck Fresh: A food blog - 27 February 2012

    […] up the onions, celery and bell peppers. I’ve already taught you how to cut onions, so we’ll move on to the celery and bell peppers. Celery is pretty easy to cut up, you just, […]

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