Salsa? Hot Sauce? Yes, please. (podcast)

Aug 10th, 2017 | By | Category: Featured Articles, podcast, the show
Chips and Salsa

Salsa entry going through preliminary judging at the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival.

When I moved to Texas from Illinois I discovered that nearly everyone I met had a salsa recipe they’d been perfecting over the years. A recipe friends and families would swoon over, claiming it worthy of commercial distribution.

It’s fair to say, some of the salsas on the market today got their start just that way.

If you have dreams of  creating the next great commercially bottled salsa, but feel you need a few pointers — Virginia B. Wood’s your gal. As former food editor of the Austin Chronicle, a weekly alternative newspaper — which is responsible for 27 years of the most popular hot sauce festival in the country — Virginia knows a few things about this savory condiment. She’s quick to point out, however, that salsa is former Austin Chronicle food editor, Robb Walsh’s, “thing.”

Robb founded the festival and remains its head judge although he currently resides in Houston.

The 27th Annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival | Sunday, August 20, 2017
11:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Fiesta Gardens | 2101 Jesse E. Segovia Street
FREE with THREE cans of non-perishable food, or a $5 cash donation, for the Central Texas Food Bank
CLICK HERE for more information.

I sat down with Virginia at her home to talk about how to make great — maybe even prize-winning — salsa. She invited me to take a seat on her living room sofa while she took a rocking chair in front of a bookcase.

Behind her was a wall of cookbooks, from floor to ceiling.  At least those are the only books I saw as my gaze swept the shelves.

Through her kitchen doorway I spied a stand mixer that looked poised and ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. Framed photos of food were waiting their turn for wall space. Even if you didn’t know who lived there, you would walk away thinking that whoever it was had a passion and respect for good grub.

As we talked about salsa and what makes good salsa great (you’ll have to listen to the podcast at the top of the page for that information), it was clear to me that while she is a trained pastry chef, savory foods like the salsas and hot sauces we were discussing that afternoon bring her as much gustatory pleasure as something sweet.

If there is one word to sum up Virginia Wood’s advice to would-be salsa bottlers, that word would be: balance.

She said if someone wants to win a salsa or hot sauce competition, they’ll need to be be judicious with the heat, because  if the first taste of a salsa numbs a judge’s mouth, calling it salsa or hot sauce won’t matter. The judges are going to call it “quits.”

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