Simple, fresh and easy to make. A winning Mexican restaurant style salsa prepared with plum tomatoes, onion cilantro, and serrano peppers. Fresh tomatoes, not canned, star in this recipe. In Mexico, it is known as salsa roja (red sauce) or salsa de mesa (table sauce). And just like in the U.S., it is served in every restaurant before your meal with tortilla chips.

The one thing I learned when teaching myself to can salsa was that in order to use a water-bath canner to make salsa shelf stable, it’s important to use a recipe from a trusted source that uses USDA guidelines. This is because there are so many low-acid ingredients in salsa (peppers, onions, and garlic) that it creates a delicate balance between the acid (tomatoes and usually another ingredient like vinegar or lemon juice) and the low-acid ingredients.
The key to this recipe is to char the tomatoes and peppers on the stovetop. I tried to do it in the oven once and roast the tomatoes & peppers, bad move. It will take you about 20 minutes, but sooooooo worth the wait. You’ll need to rotate the veggies from time to time, so all the sides are pretty even. Here is what the vegetables will look like once they are done:

I fell in love with Mexican food during a 2003 trip to California. Head over heels in love. I’m not talking your Chipotle Mexican Grill nonsense or your Taco Bell Tex Mex disgrace, I’m talking the sight and sounds of your host family’s Latin American sister-in-law chopping up wine-ripened tomatoes and fresh Jalapeños for Pico de Gallo on Thanksgiving. I’m talking pounding Coronas with Rudy all day and talking cultural differences, dreams and life in general. I’m talking the sound of Mariachi bands playing tableside in a side alley eatery near LA’s historic Olvera Street. The banging of pots from the stuffed taqueria kitchen. The smell of the spices hitting the heat of the stove… I love Mexican food. The authentic kind of Mexican food that few of us get to experience and shockingly many of us never knew existed… THIS, the authentic and the real, I love it!


What kind of apple cider do you recommend using? I used Bragg’s and the taste of vinegar was so strong it was nearly inedible. I had to use baking soda to even out the flavor. (I’m not going to can this batch, just because I’m not sure the acidity is correct with my adjustments.) I followed the recipe precisely so I know I didn’t add too much vinegar. Any thoughts? 
Made a batch of this last weekend with 12 pounds Roma tomatoes. After peeling/draining didn’t yield quite 10 cups but after all other ingredients we got almost 9 pints of salsa. Since 2 pints have already been eaten with the 3rd open in the fridge I knew we needed more. Picked up another 6 pounds Roma tomatoes and had 11 pounds better boys that I expected to break down more than the roma after draining. Ummmmm they didn’t I ended up with 18 cups chopped/drained tomatoes so am making a double batch right now. Looks like we’ll end up with another 4 quarts bloody mary mix from the juices as well. I’m in tomato heaven right now lol
In reality, Mexican food is ANYTHING but simple: It’s fresh corn tortillas baked to order and served either crisp or soft. It’s crisp vegetables and other fresh ingredients mixed with meticulously prepared multi-layered sauces made from a multitude of ingredients. It’s carefully marinated and perfectly cooked meats served with tantalizing sides that sometimes rival the cuisine of India in terms of complexity and layers… Really, all in all, its thousands of years of culinary history, culture and technique boiled into the perfect comfort and party food. And all the world is thinking about when hearing the words Mexican food are nachos and hard-shell tacos! For shame!
Oh, Summer, the many things that it brings to our lives: fresh vegetables and fruits, trips to the pool or beach, and vacation time for some. It’s the time of the year when many will use their barbecue grills almost every weekend if possible. For these days when you’re grilling your meat or chicken, warm up some tortillas alongside the meat to enjoy your grilling feast by making some tacos, and top it off with one of the most famous salsas in Central Mexico, one that’s sought after in many “Taquerias” for those who like to have a good, spicy, tasteful salsa. A good taco has to have a really good salsa to go along.
One thing though, I have never heard of simmering it. I switch up making mine to where I add all ingredients into a food processor and process until well mixed and chopped and then serve, or I only place the tomatoes and spices in the food processor and process until well chopped and then add the finely chopped onions, jalapenos and cilantro and then mix manually until all is well mixed. This makes for a chunkier salsa, and again I serve immediately.
As you will notice when we dive a little further into these recipes, Mexican food has a stunning range of somewhat special ingredients. From Masa Harina, the essential ingredient of corn over a wide array of chilies either fresh, dried or ground to Mexican oregano and tomatillos. Some of these may at first glance seem foreign and difficult to come by, but fear not we’ll discuss the individual ingredients as we go and they’ll be easier to come by than you think.
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and heat, stirring frequently, until mixture boils. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes at 0–1,000 feet elevation, 20 minutes at 1,001–6,000 feet, and 25 minutes above 6,000 feet.
Hi Laurie, I want to thank you for your quick reply! You were right about the equal amounts of cider vinegar and lemon juice, it did give the salsa a bit of a Strange but not bad taste to it. I’m still hoping that the zing gets better as it sits though, or will the flavor be more pronounced? Either way, I’m still going to add more fresh tomatoes and other ingredients to it before I serve it to give it a fresher taste and maybe that will help. Thank you for your time
Hi Holly – I’m honestly not sure in regards to food safety. From what I understand, the ingredients that can be altered without affecting food safety are: leaving out the tomato paste (not sure about the tomato sauce), altering the spices like cumin and salt and cilantro, etc., and modifying the amount of jalapenos. I don’t know the pH of radishes and how the would sub in for green peppers – and of course the amount of tomatoes and vinegar (for the main acidity) need to stay the same.
We have adapted our salsa method from Well Preserved. What is special about their method is the straining of the tomatoes before packing them. This straining and sweating of the tomatoes is the same concept for pulling the moisture out of zucchini before cooking. By pulling the moisture out of the tomatoes, you allow the fruit to keep a more crisp texture when canned.

I added a tea spoon of fine ground hot pepper. now thats the slight hot I like and no tomato paste. I like it wet …Great recipe. the first time I ever made salsa and I am glad I found the perfect recipe.. on top of it all. its just like a recipe of a so called semi friend. that had his own recipe I liked and he wouldnt give it up. well ..he can bite this. now!! I got it. if not better ..ha ha !! you and your grand mother knew your stuff… Thanks !!

It needs to be cooked ahead of time so that the flavors are blended and you can taste it and make sure it’s how you want before canning. With the big pot for canning, I have a quilted hot pad under them instead of a rack. I never bought a rack because the hot pads work just fine. You need something under the jars but it can be as simple as a kitchen towel (I have not broken a jar in 3 years! So it must be okay, lol). I have some posts on the water bath method that explain my equipment in more detail.
I did a lot of research about the lemon juice, and the reason for bottled is because it’s consistently about 5% acidity- fresh isn’t consistent. I’ve used organic and I’m OK with it, but I’ve not read anything OFFICIAL about it. I think if it’s consistent, it should be OK, and it’s certainly better without the preservatives. I know there are canners who use fresh lemon juice, though, and don’t think it’s a problem- but it’s just not worth it to me to go against the recommendations, though. 🙂
I just made my 4th batch of this salsa tonight. We have a huge vegetable garden and have been making it when enough tomatoes ripen. Absolutely love this recipe. I followed it exactly and have made 36 pint size jars. Have given away about half so I will make another 2 batches when the rest of the tomatoes are ready. Everyone loves it. Thank you so much for sharing this and the perfect instructions you gave!

I fell in love with Mexican food during a 2003 trip to California. Head over heels in love. I’m not talking your Chipotle Mexican Grill nonsense or your Taco Bell Tex Mex disgrace, I’m talking the sight and sounds of your host family’s Latin American sister-in-law chopping up wine-ripened tomatoes and fresh Jalapeños for Pico de Gallo on Thanksgiving. I’m talking pounding Coronas with Rudy all day and talking cultural differences, dreams and life in general. I’m talking the sound of Mariachi bands playing tableside in a side alley eatery near LA’s historic Olvera Street. The banging of pots from the stuffed taqueria kitchen. The smell of the spices hitting the heat of the stove… I love Mexican food. The authentic kind of Mexican food that few of us get to experience and shockingly many of us never knew existed… THIS, the authentic and the real, I love it!
Ultra Gel is ultrafine cornstarch, which is used to thicken the salsa. It is now the preferred product for thickening when canning. I recently purchased Ultra Gel, which is GMO free. Clear Jel is a similar product. When I first made this home canned salsa recipe, it called for cornstarch, but Ultra Gel and Clear Jel are now recommended over corn starch for canning.

I have just finished the first batch of your salsa. I say first because I will do another. Ended up with 15 pts. and enough for a bowl to try. I have thrown away all other cooked/canned salsa recipes because this one ROCKS!!!! I followed your recipe almost exactly. I used fresh oregano since I had some. Chopped all ingredients kinda chuncky and added a sprinkle of smoked dried tobacco peppers. I did not use the ultra gel as I have had a bad experience with it hardening the food but I drained the heck out of all the vegetables so as not to have watery salsa. This recipe has restored my faith in home canned salsa. Thank you for sharing
This recipe is a great starting point to develop your own Mexican salsa recipe. Adjust any or all of the ingredients to suit your tastes. Although this recipe calls for charring the chiles, you can also make it without charring them. Add more chiles for a spicier sauce or reduce the number for a milder version. Substituting jalapeño chiles for the serrano chiles will make a milder salsa too.
During processing, a vacuum is pulled in the headspace of the jar. This vacuum naturally pulls down the lid. (Giving us that distinctive “popping” noise when the jars seal.) On Tattler lids, you manually screw down the lids at the end of processing. This may create a false seal where the air in the headspace has not been properly evacuated, leading to food spoilage. More on that here – https://commonsensehome.com/comparison-of-jarden-and-tattler-lids/
Homemade salsa can be more frugal and flavorful than commercial jarred salsa. Many cooks prepare and can large batches of fresh salsa so that they can eat it throughout the year or give it as gifts. Expert tips for canning tomato salsa help consumers prepare salsa that has a pleasant taste and is safe to eat after canning. Some tips for the best tasting salsa include selecting meaty tomatoes, removing tomato skins completely and efficiently and mixing the correct ratio of vegetables to spices. Safety tips for canning tomato salsa include adding sufficient acidity to the salsa, ensuring that the vegetables are acidic enough to be properly preserved, avoiding certain additives and processing the jars for the appropriate amount of time.

I had save this recipe cause I knew it would be good, and it proved to be the best one I’ve ever made. My ratios of spices and peppers were a little altered, and I had a can of Muir Glen fire roasted, crushed tomatoes which added a little more depth perhaps, but it’s a big winner. I filed this in “Make Again” for sure! Thank you – love your emails.

Problem: Low Acid Foods – The trick to canning shelf-stable foods is the acidity. If you have the right amount of acidity, it creates an unpleasant environment for dangerous botulism bacteria to grow. When canning low acid foods such as green chiles, you need to either can them under pressure (using a pressure-canner), or if you use a simple water-bath canning process, add enough acidity to prevent bacteria from growing.


Dried chilies do not offer the same freshness, fruitiness and immediate punch that fresh chilies do. On the other hand, though, they have a complexity and depth of flavor that fresh chilies simply do not possess: A raisiny, dried fruit sort of quality with a hint of smoked earthiness and a slow, lasting warmth rather than an initial burst of heat. In applications such as Salsa Roja, I much prefer this added depth and complexity as well as the consistency from batch to batch achieved by using a dried product.
This salsa traditionally has Chiles de Arbol, tomatoes, garlic, salt and water, but some cooks like to add tomatillos (the medium size tomatoes with a husk), like I do in this recipe. This is a very spicy salsa, but you can adjust the spiciness to fit your own taste by reducing the amount of Arbol peppers. This salsa goes well with “Tacos al Pastor”, too. Most Taquerias in Mexico City that sell Tacos al Pastor offer this salsa to top your tacos with. Some people know this salsa as Salsa de Chile de Arbol and others as Salsa Taquera.

Salsa is the Spanish word for sauce (and the Italian word for sauce, too, for the bilinguals out there). In modern Mexico, the US and, well, large parts of the world, really, it is generally used a short form expression of salsa picante: a shockingly large group of (you guessed it) piquant sauces ranging in texture from runny over chunky to spreadable and in flavor from mild to brain-numbingly hot.

Do take a look at this post about how to choose hot peppers, when making your decision, but if you are just starting out, we would recommend starting with jalapenos. Jalapenos will give your salsa a flavor similar to a lot of store-bought brands, and they can be anywhere from mild to spicy, depending on how much veining appears on the individual pepper.
Small, very hot chiles provide a distinct taste to salsas. Jalapeño is the most popular hot chile. Other varieties include Serrano, Cayenne, Habanero, Chile Piquin, and Tabasco. Use rubber gloves when you cut or dice these chiles because they cause extreme irritation to the skin. Do not touch your face, particularly the area around your eyes, when you are working with hot chiles.
Salsa very rarely causes problems or spoils (and I’ve known people to ‘create’ their own canned recipes that are WAY out of balance), so no cause for freaking out, Christina! That said, I always like to err on the side of safety, which is why I talk about it and do my best to make sure my recipes are safe. Your ratios sound okay (and any type of vinegar is fine, as long as it’s 5% acidity), since you use more tomatoes which are higher acid and less low-acid things like onion and peppers (did you add garlic?) and your ingredients are all less than half to match your vinegar, so go ahead and enjoy your salsa. 🙂
When fresh tomato salsa ingredients are hard to come by in your own kitchen, one suggestion we hear over and over again is to simply stop by Acapulcos Mexican Family Restaurant & Cantina. Our tomato salsa is made fresh daily and receives the highest of praise. Stop by any of our 12 locations throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut to enjoy fresh authentic Mexican food and indulge in tomato salsa and chips. We are here for you 7 days a week. 
×