As your grill puts in overtime while warm weather prevails, there’s one thing your charred, smoky proteins and vegetables have been missing: Salsa verde. What essentially translates to “green sauce” is so much more than the name implies, and depending on what culture’s version you’re using yields an entirely new flavor profile. Perfect this now, and you'll use it well beyond grilling season and deep into winter for roasts, root vegetables and beyond.
Why It’s Perfect for Grilled Foods
No matter which country’s recipe you settle on, salsa verde is ideal for grilled items because it will cut through the bold flavors that generally come along with it. Steaks, for example, are by far the ultimate canvas for salsa verde, as the rich and crust-prone beef becomes bright and amplified with the herbs and acid that salsa verde imparts. The same goes for things like grilled eggplant, squash or Portobello mushrooms, whose vegetal meatiness work just as well.
If you’ve done enough food and wine research, or are into the concept of terroir, you’ve likely heard the adage “what grows together goes together.” In its most basic form, that’s meant to mean that, say, wines from Tuscany go great with Tuscan food. But, if you spin it to something like seasonality, herbs and the crucial ingredients for salsa verde are booming in the summertime, which is when you’re likely doing the bulk of your grilling. Making batches of salsa verde is a great way to use up all those herbs from your garden, CSA or farmer’s market that you’re not sure how you’ll burn through. As an added bonus, when stored with a layer of olive oil on top in an air-tight jar, salsa verde will keep for weeks in a refrigerator, or you can freeze small portions in an ice cube tray and use when needed throughout the future months.
Italy: This version of salsa verde has become a favorite among chefs in recent years, as it incorporates big, punchy bursts of salinity and flavor courtesy of things like capers and anchovies. When paired with parsley, basil, cilantro – any leafy, green herb, really – become one with olive oil and garlic, magic ensues. In fact, chef Jonathan Waxman’s legendary roast chicken at Barbuto in New York City has exalted salsa verde into a crucial component of an essential dish.
Elsewhere in Italian cuisine, Mario Batali opts to use salsa verde as a marinade to flavor and tenderize anything from chicken breast to lamb chops. Because Batali’s version includes vinegar (which Waxman omits), the acid helps break down the proteins of any meat it touches, lending to a softer, more tender product in the end.
Argentina: Here’s where language semantics come in: In Argentina and elsewhere, the going name for salsa verde is chimichurri, as “green sauce” can be taken pretty liberally. But as you’ll see once you start pondering recipes, it’s almost exactly the same as Italian salsa verde, only ditching the capers and anchovies, tends to rely a bit heavier on red wine vinegar, and also will have a little punch of heat to it courtesy of a chiles. There’s no real base recipe for chimichurri, and everyone has their own preferences when it comes to heat level and acidity level (chefs go heavier on acids as a basic rule), so you’ll see varying recipes across the board. For example, this recipe on Food52 is far different from this one. It’s not to say one is better or worse than the other – just that they’ve got different dimensions of zing going on. And while its origins are in Argentina, most of South America has taken the liberty of adapting their own version of this sauce.
Peru: Less herb-heavy and more reliant on thickeners like sour cream, mayonnaise and sometimes avocado, Peruvian green sauce – often referred to as “aji” – is synonymous with the country’s famed grilled or rotisserie chicken, but is delicious on anything from French fries to salad to empanadas. Thanks to a healthy dose of jalapeno peppers, this version tends to be the spiciest of the green sauce lot, but the addition of mayo or sour cream helps temper the heat to a pleasant, you’ll-want-more burn.
Mexico: This is where things can get a bit confusing. In Mexican cuisine, salsa verde tends to mean a tomatillo-based sauce that’s commonly served with tortilla chips or used to top things like tacos, tortas and chilaquiles. This is an entirely different product than the type of salsa verde mentioned above, but that’s not knocking its deliciousness.
Spain: Much like Mexico’s version, Spain’s salsa verde is much less of a condiment and more of a sauce that comes together in the final moments of fish cookery. Most common in the Basque region of Spain, fish dishes that start with a base of olive oil, white wine and garlic tend to get finished with a blizzard of minced parsley, lending the “verde” aspect to the dish.