A Guide to Authentic Mexican Sauces and Condiments
Mexican dishes are delicious and flavorful as they are. However, adding Mexican sauces and condiments can magically elevate a tasty yet simple meal into a flavor explosion.
Many Mexican condiments and sauces, not just your usual, store-bought red salsa, play a crucial role in authentic Mexican cuisine. In fact, while the word “salsa” is associated with the tomato-based, chunky dip people in the U.S. and elsewhere eat tortilla chips with, it actually refers to any type of sauce used in Mexican cuisine. There are many types of salsas out there, and this article will take you through them all.
Types of Mexican Sauces
Mexican sauces can be classified into cooking sauces and condiments or table sauces.
Mexican Sauces for Cooking
Mexican cooking sauces form the base of a dish. For example, mole, a thick, dark, and intensely flavored sauce is typically served alongside poultry dishes. However, Mexican sauces for cooking are versatile and can make any dish, even a simple one like beans and rice, taste richer and more complex. What’s more, many Mexican sauces for cooking can be enjoyed on their own.
Not to be confused with Spanish and Filipino adobo, Mexican adobo is a sauce made from a combination of chilies, spices, garlic, and vinegar. Depending on what the recipe calls for, it can vary in consistency from a thin liquid to a thick paste.
Both a cooking sauce and a marinade, mole is made with chilis, fruits, nuts and spices such as cumin and cinnamon. There are several regional varieties, but arguably the most popular are the ones from Oaxaca. Oaxaca is known as “the land of seven moles,” which are:
- Mole negro
- Mole manchamantel
- Mole amarillo
- Mole colorado
- Mole chichilo
- Mole rojo
- Mole verde
The word “tomatillo” means “little tomato” in Spanish, but it’s actually a different fruit. It has a tangy flavor that gives salsas like Veracruz their signature tart taste.
Salsa arriera originates in Central Mexico and is also made with tomatillos, serrano chilies, garlic, salt, and white onions. You can use this spicy sauce to prepare a wide variety of chicken and meat dishes as well as a dip for tortillas.
Meanwhile, tomatoes are used in many sauces for several dishes in Mexican cuisine. A popular example is guajillo chile salsa, made from guajillo chilies, garlic, and spices. Other names for guajillo chile are “chile guajillo” or “chile cascabel ancho.” It can be used as a marinade for meats and even as a component of mole.
Like sour cream, crema Mexicana is creamy and tangy. However, its high-fat content makes it much thicker than its American counterpart. Mexican cream sauces are typically used as a topping for dishes like chiles en nogada, flautas de pollo, and ensaladas or salads.
Mexican Condiments or Table Sauces
Mexican condiments are meant to enhance the flavors of other prepared dishes. Generally, table sauces are spicy, with heat levels ranging from mild to fiery. This depends on the type of chilies used to make them.
However, Mexican condiments aren’t the ketchup of Mexican cuisine. While the flavor of ketchup often overpowers the taste of the food you dipped in it, Mexican condiments simply make already-delicious food taste even better.
Pico de Gallo
To make the ever-popular pico de gallo, you’ll need tomatoes, cilantro, onions, and serrano peppers. If you can’t find serrano peppers, habaneros will do in a pinch. Since it’s chunky and contains less liquid than other sauces, it’s great for stuffing tacos and fajitas. You can serve it as:
- A dip for tortilla chips
- A topping for tostadas, quesadillas, tostadas and burritos
- A topping for grilled chicken meat or fish
- A side dish for tamales or chiles rellenos
This salsa is green, not red, in color. Also, unlike the salsa most people are familiar with, it uses tomatillos, not tomatoes, as a base. Other ingredients include cilantro, onions, chilies, and cilantro.
Salsa verde is delicious on eggs, carne asada tacos, and tortilla-based meals. You can drizzle it over refried beans, grilled chicken, or any other dish that needs extra flavor.
Loved by Mexican cuisine fans worldwide, guacamole is a creamy salsa with a base ingredient of mashed avocado. Simple recipes call for just mashed avocado with salt to taste, while more complex recipes require chilies, spices, Mexican crema, onions, and tomatoes.
Contrary to popular belief, guacamole is not just a chip dip. You can pair it with everything from fajitas to enchiladas.
Commercial Mexican Condiments
To save time, many people pair their meals with store-bought Mexican condiments instead of making table sauces from scratch. Some of the most popular brands in Mexico are
- Doña Maria
- El Pato
- La Costeña
How to Use Mexican Condiments and Sauces
There’s no concrete rule as to which sauce or condiment you should use–it’s all up to you and your personal preference. What’s more, many Mexican condiments and sauces are so rich and flavorful that they can be enjoyed on their own, such as mole, or so fresh and healthy that they’re perfect paired with grilled fish and chicken.
Cooking and table sauces add extra layers of flavor to your most loved Mexican dishes. If you’d like to try using them in your recipes or serving them at the dinner table, you can find plenty of recipes online. However, for a genuine Mexican cuisine experience, consider dining at a restaurant that serves traditional dishes prepared with Mexican sauces and served with Mexican condiments.
Explore the Flavors of Mexico at Benito’s Restaurant
To experience authentic Mexican food without straying far from home, head to Benito’s Restaurant in Fort Worth. Since 1981, Benito’s has been serving its customers delicious, made-from-scratch dishes such as tacos de Puerco en salsa verde, Oaxacan-style tamale served with pico de gallo and enchiladas con mole Rojo.
Benito’s Restaurant is open five days a week at its location on Magnolia Street. View the menu here. Or, for more information, feel free to reach out at (817) 332-8633.