This authentic spicy serrano salsa uses traditional Mexican techniques to make the perfect spicy and fresh salsa. This spicy and tangy salsa is the perfect pairing with everything from quesadillas to tacos and much more!
Mexican salsas are almost as important as the food itself. Typically meals like quesadilla, tacos, tostadas, burritos and bowls are served with not one, but sometimes two, three or even more salsas.
My mother in law first made this salsa to serve with fresh made tamales. Whenever she makes a new salsa, I always try to guess what's inside it. I loved the tangy, acidic taste of this salsa that was so different from a salsa roja (red sauce).
What is salsa verde?
Salsa verde literally means “green sauce” in spanish. There is no one specific recipe that is the “authentic salsa verde”, because it is a catch-all for really any salsa of the green color! Salsa verde is typically made from some combination of tomatillos and green chiles combined with fresh cilantro, onion, or garlic.
Why this recipe works
- It’s made with the freshest of fresh ingredients, and only five.
- This salsa is much better than any store-bought salsa, in fact it’s much more like a spicy restaurant salsa verde!
- It’s made without preservatives or any weird additives!
- It’s made using authentic Mexican techniques passed down from my mother-in-law.
- This recipe is vegan and gluten free.
Tomatillos are the little green fruits that look like mini unripe tomatoes with a leafy husk around it. They are typically a bright green (although some can even be a darker purple!) and sometimes called husk tomatoes.
Tomatillos are more acidic and less sweet than tomatoes, but have a similar texture to an unripe tomato. They taste tangy, citrusy and a little tart. Tomatillos add a delicious acidic and citrusy flavor to the salsa and help balance out the serrano. The acidity in this ingredients means we definitely don’t need to add lime juice as well.
Substitute for: canned hatch green chiles, green tomatoes with a touch more lime juice to bring out the tartness, or canned tomatillos.
Serranos are a spicy chili pepper, and a must-have ingredient for this spicy salsa recipe! Habaneros typically come in a bright red or orange color, but they can also be yellow, green or even purple! They are found in the produce section and are small and skinny.
Serranos are not as spicy as habaneros but more spicy than a jalapeno pepper (about 3 times more so than jalapeños) and have a kind of bright, earthy flavor. The heat typically hits as an aftertaste.
Substitute for: habaneros (even spicier) or jalapenos (less spicy).
Chiles de Árbol
Chiles de árbol are tiny, but earthy and spicy. Make sure they are whole, and not pre-crushed or pre-ground, for the best flavor. These dried chiles are used often in Mexican recipes, whether fresh, dried or powdered. They are hotter than serrano peppers but not as spicy as habaneros.
You can typically find these dried chiles online or in grocery stores in the spice aisle, near produce, or in the section with other Hispanic food items.
Substitute for: serrano peppers (slightly less spicy) or cayenne pepper powder (about ½ teaspoon of cayenne powder would be equal to about 1 arbol chile).
There are multiple ways to make Mexican salsas, from charring the ingredients to boiling them. This spicy salsa verde is a boiled salsa, using the boiling technique.
First, prepare the tomatillos. Remove the husks and rinse the tomatillos to remove the sticky residue.
Next, add tomatillos and serrano to a pot and pour in water. Set on the stove and bring to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes, or until tomatillos and serrano are tender. Tomatillos will turn a more yellow color and can pop slightly in the water. This means they are fully cooked.
Let the boiled tomatillos and serrano cool slightly in the boiling liquid.
Add boiled tomatillos, serrano, and ¼ cup of the boiling liquid into the blender with the salt, chiles de arbol and fresh cilantro.
Blend for 45-60 seconds, until the tomatillos and chiles are broken up and the salsa forms.
Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a few hours to let the flavors combine.
Honestly, my favorite way to eat salsa is with a handful of homemade tortilla chips (read: the whole lot). It’s also great served in or on tons of different options, like:
- As a substitute for any recipe calling for salsa verde.
- As a dipping sauce for carne asada quesadillas
- To spice up some chorizo con huevos
- As a topping for tacos like fried fish tacos or breakfast tacos
- To add spice to some beef enchiladas
- To make spicy chilaquiles verdes
Use gloves. If you are sensitive to heat and spice, serranos can cause a lot of pain if you touch your eye or other parts of your body after handling. I suggest using gloves while touching and cutting the habaneros in this salsa.
Want a chunky salsa? If you’re a fan of thicker, chunkier salsas, you can omit the boiling water from the blender and blend. If the ingredients get stuck you can add one tablespoon at a time until you reach the consistency of preference.
Mild, medium or hot. For a mild salsa, I suggest substituting the serrano for a jalapeno. For a medium salsa, I suggest following the recipe as noted. Anything in the hot+ range, I suggest trying 2 serranos or a habanero and add more to taste.
Broil, pan fry or boil: These are the three different traditional ways to cook down ingredients to make a salsa. For this recipe we boil the tomatillos and serrano, but you can also toast them or even broil them. All three renditions will add their own unique taste.
Make ahead. Making this serrano salsa ahead is the best! It tastes great served a day or two later. Just remember that, as with all homemade salsas, the heat increases over time.
Storage directions: Store homemade salsa in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-5 days.
Freezing directions: You definitely can freeze salsas (I suggest using Souper Cubes!), but the consistency and texture will not last the same as fresh.
Yes, you can roast or boil ingredients for salsas. Charring the ingredients will create a more smoky flavor profile, which may make the salsa even spicier in taste.
Serranos are rated at 10,000 to 20,000 SHU on the Scoville Chart. For reference, a poblano pepper is 1,000-1,500 and a jalapeño pepper is 5,500.
Nope! If you prefer a really mild salsa or you have difficulty with spice, then I would suggest removing the seeds. The salsa will still have spice!
A salsa always has a more liquid consistency than a chopped pico de gallo. However, to achieve a chunkier salsa, blend the ingredients without the water. If the mixture is too thick, add the cooking water one tablespoon at a time until the right consistency for you.
The great thing about this salsa is it’s flexible with your taste. Start with one serrano and add more per preference. I suggest starting with 1-2 and then adding a third if you want to bring the heat!
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Spicy Serrano Salsa Verde
- ½ lb tomatillos husked and stems removed
- 1 serrano pepper
- 1 cup water
- 2 dried chiles de árbol
- ½ cup cilantro
- ½ tsp salt
Remove tomatillos from husks and wash to remove the sticky residue.½ lb tomatillos
Add tomatillos and serrano to saucepot and add water.1 serrano pepper, 1 cup water
- Boil on high heat for 15 minutes, until tomatillos and serrano are cooked through and turned a more yellow color.
- Allow boiled tomatillos and serrano, in their cooking liquid, to cool down.
Add boiled tomatillos and serrano to the blender with ¼ cup of the cooking liquid, chiles de árbol, cilantro and salt.2 dried chiles de árbol, ½ cup cilantro, ½ tsp salt
- Blend for 30-60 seconds, until completely blended and smooth.
- Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately or allow flavors to sit in the fridge (cover the bowl) for a few hours.
- Reminder: salsas get spicier as they sit, so while the habanero mango salsa may be mild or medium to begin with, it may get to a more hot level of heat over time.