We Asked 3 Chefs to Name the Best Jarred Salsa, and They All Said the Same Thing

published Jun 8, 2024
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overhead shot of three different salsas: tomatillo, chipotle and salsa macha, in small bowls, with chips being dipped
Credit: Alex Lepe

One of the most shocking things I do for work is interview chefs about their favorite store-bought items. The hot takes I have HEARD, let me tell you (see: confirmation that the best chicken nuggets are, in fact, dinosaur-shaped). Perhaps the most piping hot of them all is just how many feelings chefs have about jarred salsa.

Simply put, you don’t need to be a professional to know that many jarred salsas can’t hold their weight against the stuff made at home or in restaurants; it’s hard to bottle up that freshness, heat, and balance of the peppers, tomatoes (or tomatillos), and spices. But as it turns out, there is one salsa — or rather, one variety of salsa — that chefs swear by. Yes it exists, and it’s none other than salsa macha. 

The Best Jarred Salsa, According to Chefs

“I’m not a huge fan of buying jarred salsa, as I’m spoiled living in Austin [Texas] where the salsa is always made fresh and really abundant,” says Chef Deepa Shridhar. “But! There is a brand that ships nationwide and you can find it at Whole Foods called Masienda. They make amazing masa, and their whole salsa macha line is so delicious.”

Shridhar is a fan of all kinds of salsa machas. Sometimes called Mexico’s chili crisp, salsa macha is notable for its thick consistency, made up of a crispy-spicy blend of ground peanuts, garlic, toasted or dried chili peppers, and seeds (such as sesame seeds) all suspended in oil. It’s comparable to many kinds of chili oils in terms of texture, heat, and versatility. “I put [Masienda’s] Guajillo, Cherry and Cocoa Nib version on everything — breakfast tacos, sandwiches, [and] add a tablespoon to homemade salad dressing for an extra kick.”

Credit: Pinche Salsa

Buy: Pinche Salsa Macha de Chile de Arbol, $13 for a 6-ounce jar

Chef Erasmo Casiano of Denver’s Lucina Eatery+ Bar agrees — most any food can be improved with a drizzle of the spicy-nutty salsa. He regularly turns to Pinche Salsa Salsa Macha de Chile de Arbol to add a smoky aroma from the chile de arbol and the crunch of ajonjoli peanuts to eggs, tacos, fried chicken, and sandwiches. (His all-time favorite is tacos de lengua.)

Executive Chef RJ Yoakum of Georgie in Dallas makes a stop at World Market to pick up his staple salsa macha: Chingonas Original Salsa Macha. “The magic of Chingonas Original Salsa Macha lies in its balance of flavors,” says Yoakum. “The heat level is just right, the spices are perfectly blended with a piquant kick.” And much like our other chefs, the salsa macha from Chingonas is RJ’s pick for how versatile it is: “I love using it as a marinade for meats like beef, pork, or chicken. It adds depth and character to dishes.” Try spooning some over a hot dog this Memorial Day.

As you might expect, even these chefs can’t resist adding some semi-homemade touches to make these jarred salsas really sparkle. “Making your own garnishes with the salsa is always key,” says Shridhar, who adds fresh cilantro, diced red onions, and plenty of lime to help bring out the flavor of jarred salsa. If you want to take things a step further, take a cue from Casiano: “A little bouillon cube blended while warm gives your salsa an umami boost that’s simply divine,” adding that we can all thank many Mexican moms for this home kitchen cooking “hack.”

Do you agree with these chefs? Tell us about it in the comments below.

This post originally ran on The Kitchn. See it there: We Asked 3 Chefs to Name the Best Jarred Salsa, and They All Said the Same Thing