I LOVE a good salsa, one that can top tacos, eggs, tostadas, quesadillas, or anything else my heart desires. And while my roasted salsa verde is my tried and true favorite, this charred salsa roja (or salsa quemada) is a definite keeper. Ripe Roma tomatoes are dry-roasted in a skillet, along with onions, habaneros, and garlic until the skins are charred and blackened. The ingredients are then blended into a delicious salsa, perfect for topping just about anything!
If you are a fan of Mexican cuisine, then you know that a delicious salsa is part of nearly every meal. Salsa quemada literally means “burnt salsa”. “Burnt” salsa gets its name from the fact that the fresh veggies are cooked until the skins are charred and blackened.
This salsa quemada or charred red salsa is one of my favorite salsas because it is so versatile! Use it to top tacos, quesadillas, or burritos. It is a perfect salsa for huevos rancheros or chilaquiles. Or simply use it to dip corn tortilla chips for an appetizer or snack!
The roasted tomatoes and toasted garlic are perfect for bringing a delicious sweetness to this dish. And you can make this salsa with your chile pepper of choice for the exact amount of spice that is perfect for you!
Once you learn how to make salsas at home, you will notice a huge difference in taste from the store-bought variety. And because this salsa is super easy to make, it is a perfect salsa if this is your first time trying your hand at homemade salsa! Let’s get started!
What’s in salsa quemada?
You only need 5 ingredients to make this delicious salsa:
- Roma tomatoes
- white onion
- whole cloves of garlic
- habanero peppers
Be sure to check the recipe card for ingredient quantities and instructions.
Substitutions and variations
Fresh Roma tomatoes are the most common and readily available tomato variety that I can find here where I live in Mexico. You could substitute for another red tomato variety if desired. The only thing I would look out for is to make sure that you are using a meaty tomato variety, just to help the tomatoes hold up while you are charring them. Roma or plum, San Marzano, or beefsteak would be good varieties.
And if you want a green variety of salsa, you can make this same salsa by substituting the tomatoes for tomatillos!
I have made this salsa with white, yellow, or red onions. All will work here and each bring their own unique flavor to the final dish.
I love the spice and flavor of habaneros in this dish. I have seen habaneros range from green to orange-red in color. Any color will work here, although, in my experience, the orange and red varieties are spicier.
If you don’t like spicy food, you could easily substitute jalapeño or serrano chiles for a milder salsa. Jalapeño peppers will be the mildest of the three varieties mentioned here and habanero the spiciest.
You can also remove the seeds and veins of the chiles once they are roasted to reduce the spice level even further. Or omit the chile peppers entirely for a completely spice-free version. And for a spicier salsa, you can always add more chiles!
Other flavor possibilities
One of the things that I love about salsas are the endless flavor combinations and possibilities. Here are a couple of suggestions that you can try with this salsa here.
Stir in a bit of lime juice with the blended salsa for a bit of citrus flavor.
Chopped fresh cilantro could also be stirred into the final salsa or added to the blender with the roasted ingredients.
A dash of powdered cumin will provide a bit of smoky flavor.
You could even mix your tomato varieties and use both tomatoes and tomatillos for a unique salsa blend! The tomatillos will provide a bit of acidic tartness to the overall salsa, although, roasting them will help mellow out their tart flavor.
Did you try any other flavor combinations for this salsa? I would love to hear about them in the comments!
How to make charred salsa roja
So now that you know what ingredients are in salsa quemada, let’s get cooking! This salsa is SO easy to make, I hope it will convince you that you don’t ever have to buy jarred salsa again.
Start with fresh ingredients
This salsa uses purely fresh produce. So make sure that you are using the freshest and ripest ingredients that you can find! Firm, ripe whole large red tomatoes are best for this dish. The peppers should be plump, with unwrinkled skins.
Start by heating a skillet, cast iron pan, or griddle on medium-high heat on the stove. Meanwhile, prep your ingredients. Remove the skins from the garlic and onion. Cut the onion into large chunks. Rinse the tomatoes and habaneros.
Roast your ingredients
When the skillet is hot, place whole tomatoes, garlic cloves, chiles, and onion chunks in the skillet. There is no need to stir or add any vegetable oil to the skillet. Use a dry pan for this cooking technique.
Notice the lovely blackened skin on the salsa ingredients in the photo above. Those charred skins are what bring tons of flavor to this salsa. Turn each of the ingredients occasionally to allow the skins to blacken and char on all sides.
You will notice that the garlic and chile peppers will finish first, followed by the onions and tomatoes. Therefore, ingredients should be removed from the skillet as they finish cooking. The tomatoes are done when they are charred on all sides and slightly softened.
Place tomatoes, onions, garlic, and chile pepper (stem removed) into the bowl of your blender or food processor. If you are looking for a milder salsa, this would be the time to remove the seeds and veins from your chile peppers. Add salt and blend to your desired consistency. For a smooth salsa, blend the ingredients a bit longer. For a chunkier texture, pulse the ingredients for a few seconds at a time until you reach your desired consistency. Taste for salt and adjust as necessary.
That’s it! Now you have an authentic Mexican salsa perfect for your next meal!
How do I store salsa quemada?
Fresh, homemade charred salsa can be stored in the fridge for 5-6 days in an air-tight container.
Can I make this salsa on the grill?
Sure! We make this salsa on the charcoal grill when we are making carne asada for our family cookouts! Place the ingredients on a hot grill and turn them occasionally to ensure that the sides are charring evenly. If needed, you can place a piece of aluminum foil over the grill to keep the garlic or smaller ingredients from falling through the grate!
Place the ingredients in a blender or food processor once they are charred and pulse or blend to your desired consistency.
Can I make this salsa with tomatillos?
Yes! We make green tomatillo salsas using this same technique. Simply substitute the red tomatoes for tomatillos.
What can I use salsa quemada for?
This is a very useful salsa, perfect for many different dishes! This is our favorite salsa for chilaquiles or huevos rancheros. It would be an amazing salsa to add to machaca burritos, or simply to top carne asada or grilled chicken tacos. You can add it to Mexican black beans for a bit of extra spice. And of course, it would be perfect for topping scrambled eggs, quesadillas, or using with corn tortilla chips!
I hope you enjoy this salsa! Let me know in the comments what modifications you made or what you used this salsa for!
Charred Salsa Roja (salsa quemada)
- 1 lb Roma tomatoes ~500g or 4-5 medium to large
- ~4 ounces white onion, cut into large chunks ~125g
- 1-2 cloves garlic peeled
- 1-2 habaneros See notes
- Salt to taste
- Heat a skillet, cast iron pan, or griddle over medium-high heat, 2-3 minutes
- Once the pan is hot, add the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and habanero to the dry skillet. The vegetables should be whole, with the exception of the onion
- Let the vegetables cook until the skins begin to char and blacken. Turn occasionally to allow the vegetables to blacken evenly, about 8-10 minutes for the garlic and habanero and 15-20 for the tomatoes and onions
- Place the cooked vegetables in a blender or food processor, removing the chile stem at this point. Add salt to taste
- Blend or process until your desired consistency is reached, blending longer for a smoother salsa
- Taste for salt and add if necessary
- If the salsa is too thick, add a small amount of broth or water to achieve the desired consistency.
- Habaneros can be substituted for jalapeños or serrano chiles.
(The below nutrition label is included as a courtesy. Our terms and conditions explain our nutrition policy.)