When made properly, Pico de Gallo is a fabulous condiment that not only adds color and texture to a dish, it can add a breath of freshness to a braised chicken taco or a bowl of my green chili. The trouble is that most of the time, this condiment ends up being more like a chunky watered-down gazpacho that renders anything below it a soggy mess. So how do you make a great Pico de Gallo with a pleasant balance of flavors that doesn't dribble down your arm when you scoop it up with a chip?
On the flavor side, it's all about the ingredients that you use. The tomatoes should be ripe, but not so ripe that they turn into mush when you cut them. When you're slicing the tomatoes, it's important to use a very sharp knife so that you don't need to use any pressure to cut through the skin. If you don't have a sharp knife, a knife with a serrated edge such as a bread knife or a steak knife will do.
For the onions, sweet onions work best, because they give you great onion flavor and texture without the tears, but if you can't find them, you can also make regular onions milder by "taming" them. Just make a solution of 2 cups of water with 1 tablespoon of baking soda and soak the chopped onions for 15 minutes before rinsing them thoroughly. The baking soda neutralizes the volatile sulfur compounds in the onion, giving you all the onion flavor and sweetness, without the burn. For the chili pepper, you can use whatever chilies you like in a quantity that suits your preferences for heat, but I like using jalapeños for Pico de Gallo because they have a relatively low concentration of capsaicin, which means you can pile on the Pico without making your food tongue-searingly spicy (that's what the hot sauce is for).
So now that we know how to make a Pico de Gallo with great flavor, how do we make one that's not a drippy, watery mess? Well, the first thing is to understand that tomatoes contain a lot of water, and anytime you add salt to a vegetable it draws water out of it due to osmosis. The way to avoid watery Pico de Gallo is to salt and drain the tomatoes before mixing them with all the other ingredients. This makes for a chunky Pico de Gallo that's free of extra liquid; then it won't drip all over the place.
The thing is, I actually like having a bit of sauce in my Pico de Gallo, which is where my secret ingredient comes in. I mix the juice extracted by salting the tomatoes with a little bit of xanthan gum to slightly thicken it before reintroducing some of the liquid back into the sauce. This gives you the best of both worlds: a saucy Pico de Gallo that's not watery.
I deliberately kept this recipe very simple to make a great basic Pico de Gallo, but if you like something a little more herbaceous, try adding some minced Mexican oregano or epazote to this.
- 570 grams tomatoes (~5 small tomatoes)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 50 grams sweet onions (~¼ onion, minced)
- 30 grams jalapeño peppers (~1 pepper, seeded and minced)
- 15 grams cilantro (~2 tablespoons, minced)
- ⅛ teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)
- Remove the stems of the tomatoes and then slice them into ⅓-inch thick slices and then cut the slices into ⅓-inch thick stick, and then slice the sticks into ⅓-inch thick cubes.
- Transfer the chopped tomatoes to a colander over a bowl and then toss with the salt. Let this rest for 15 minutes to drain the excess liquid from the tomatoes.
- Add to the drained tomatoes to a bowl, along with the onions, jalapeño, and cilantro and stir to combine.
- (optional) add the xanthan gum to the drained tomato juice and use an immersion blender to incorporate. Add some of this back to the pico de Gallo and stir to combine.