Salsa verde is one of those infinitely variable preparations a cook should commit to heart and cook all summer long.

In a phrase salsa verde is: a bunch of finely chopped green herbs, much less chopped garlic or another allium, sometimes roasted tomatillos, enough oil and acidic liquid to give it a vinaigrette-like punch, plus a little salt to turn it all on. You can hold back the tomatillos, swap in different herbs, add depth with things like anchovies and toasted spices, flip through the acid files and use citrus juice or flavored vinegars. Play with the formula over a few dinners and you’ll find it will serve you well in times where improvisation and the limitations of your larder can still save the day, particularly in summer when grilled fish, chicken, or beef will benefit from a bracing, bright, herbaceous, enriching yet lifting sauce.

Use at Least Two Kinds of Herbs

You could easily make a simple salsa verde of parsley, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt. That’s a baseline. It’s going to be good and tangy and herbaceous and a simple counterpoint to your meal. But it will lack polyphonic complexity. It’s a note. Not a chord. Add another herb: fresh rosemary, basil, oregano, and suddenly you’re walking in a garden.

Chop Everything as Finely as Possible

I’m all for rustic, rough chops, but when you want an unctuous dollop of flavor, the last thing you want to feel is a flappy piece of parsley or a sharp rosemary sprig in your teeth. It’s a rustic sauce, yes, but that doesn’t mean the texture should be rough.

Go All in on Alliums

Salsa verdes are about a multitude of strong flavors: aggressive herbs, tart acids, and super aromatic alliums. While you could go hard with the garlic and chop up a bunch of cloves, I like to mix a couple, whether it’s ⅔ shallot and ⅓ garlic, or the same ratio of scallions and garlic. There’s a unique range of pungent sweetness to be had in the onion family.

Be Briny

One common mistake in salsa verde making is relying entirely on the oil and vinegar to give the sauce its liquid sauciness. One way to thin out a tight sauce and add volume and flavor is the Argentinian trick of whipping up a salmuera, or batch of salt water. This both seasons the dish and makes it far more spoonable.

Up the Umami

Two finely chopped anchovies and a bit of the oil they come in sweeten and deepen the sauce without tasting “fishy” per se. 

Get Tart

I nearly always mix two kinds of acids: a bit of lemon juice for that laser-focused zing, and red wine or rice vinegar for a gentler zippiness. And be sure to taste as you go. I’ve found that as you layer flavors and adjust the salt to the perfect level, a final squeeze of lemon often is the finishing flourish for a perfect salsa verde.

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