When you can’t get to Chipotle, make it yourself, starting with authentic Chipotle Hot Salsa, a tomatillo and red chili salsa that puts a little—just a little—fire in your bowl. Break open that bag of tortilla chips; this salsa is ready to dip in just under twenty minutes.
Make your favorite burrito bowl even better with more DIY Chipotle recipes, like Cilantro Lime Rice, the juiciest Chipotle Chicken, Fajita Veggies, and an extra helping of Corn Salsa (without feeling weird for asking!) I love recreating each and every single recipe on the Chipotle menu, digging deep into the ingredient lists so you can make everything from the comfort of your own cucina.
Stop dreaming about Chipotle’s spicy, tangy red salsa and whip up your very own batch tonight. You can absolutely do it. In fact, if you’ve ever been curious about how to make salsa from scratch, this recipe is probably the best place to start.
That's because thee most authentic Mexican salsa isn’t in a jar at the store. Instead, it’s made from dried chilies, tomatillos, and a handful of this and that from the pantry. This recipe is super easy--all you need is a broiler and a food processor--and perfect for spooning over burritos, tostadas, or grilled chicken, steak, or fish.
Red chili salsa is the spiciest salsa that Chipotle offers. But if you like it even hotter, you can add a bit of chile de árbol to nudge the Scoville units up to where you want them. Either way, it's a delicious tomatillo-based salsa that's full of bright, punchy flavor.
Making Chipotle Hot Salsa for your own burrito bar? Just click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Chipotle Red Chili Salsa ingredients:
Some recipes out there add tomatoes to this salsa, but Chipotle’s ingredient label doesn’t include any. The salsa gets its color from dried ground New Mexican chilies, which aren’t too too spicy, and have an earthy, sweet flavor.
- New Mexican chilies. You can use guajillo chilies, too, but they’re just a bit spicier. To make a fiery salsa, use chili de arbol.
- Lime zest.
- Lime juice.
- Tabasco sauce. Former employees of the restaurant tell me that this is an important ingredient, and we have to believe them. Chipotle lists vinegar in the salsa, which Tabasco definitely has, so.....
- Salt and freshly ground pepper.
What are tomatillos?
- Also known as the Mexican husk tomato, a tomatillo is one of the main ingredients for truly authentic Mexican recipes. In fact, they’ve been cultivated in Mexico for thousands of years.
- Like tomatoes, tomatillos are a member of the nightshade family. However, tomatillos are not the same as tomatoes. Even though they look like small green tomatoes, they're very much their own thing.
- Tomatillos are not toxic. You can eat tomatillos cooked or raw in salads, stews, and salsa verde. The flavor is brightly acidic and delicious.
- Most importantly, farmers love to grow them. They grow in almost any soil, and are covered in a papery shell that protects them from insects and other parasites.
- When shopping for tomatillos, look for firm, shiny, green fruit under the papery shell. Stay away from any with brown or soft spots. It's absolutely fine that they feel sticky to the touch under the husk--it's a natural insect repellent that the plant makes! Don't worry, it rinses off easily.
What is New Mexico chili powder?
Unlike chili powder, which is a blend of ground chilies as well as herbs and other spices, this recipe uses pure, ground chilies to bring the heat.
Vibrant red New Mexican peppers have a moderate heat level, and they’re often used in enchiladas. They're what give this salsa a bright red color.
It’s easy to find ground New Mexican peppers at well-stocked Hispanic markets, spice shops, and especially online. If you can only find whole dried peppers, you can grind them up using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.
I like to use a separate coffee bean grinder for grinding small batches of spices, so I don’t have to clean the coffee beans out of the chamber when I need it. If using whole New Mexico chilies, you’ll need at least 9 to 10 dried pepper pods to make the recipe.
Some good substitutes for New Mexican chili powder: Guajillo chiles, California chiles, or Anaheim chiles. However, if you're using another type of chili pepper, you may not get the color exactly right, but hopefully the flavor will be great.
How to make Chipotle’s Hot Salsa:
- A food processor makes short work of this salsa, so dig it out and plug it in.
- Turn that broiler on and adjust the top rack in your oven to about 6” away from the heating element. Then line a baking sheet with foil, to make the clean-up easier.
- To begin, take off the papery husks from the tomatillos. Then give them a quick rinse; they can be a little sticky. (The sticky film is actually the plant’s natural insect repellent!)
- Place the tomatillos and the crushed garlic on the baking sheet and broil until the tomatillos begin to char. Occasionally, flip the tomatillos to make sure they char evenly. The whole process should take about 12 minutes.
- Next, add the garlic, tomatillos, ground red chilies, cumin, lime zest and juice, and some salt and pepper to the bowl of the food processor. Process until smooth, then adjust the seasoning with Tabasco sauce, plus more salt and pepper if needed. If the salsa is a little too thick, drizzle in a bit of water to thin it out.
Homemade tortilla chips:
Because what is salsa without something to dip?
Of course, Chipotle’s corn chips are so good, I had to crack that code, too. My in-depth recipe for Homemade Tortilla Chips uses thin corn tortillas and an option to oven-bake or fry, depending on how wild you want to get. Here’s the gist:
- To bake your own tortilla chips, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly brush corn tortillas with oil and cut into chip-sized pieces. Then spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 6 minutes, then flip the chips, salt the other side, and bake for 6 to 10 more minutes.
- To make fried tortilla chips, heat at least 1/4” oil in a sauté pan or Dutch oven until the oil reaches 350 degrees. Then cut thin corn tortillas into chip-sized triangles. As soon as the oil is up to temperature, drop the chips into the oil, being careful not to crowd. The chips will cook in just a couple minutes. As they turn light golden brown, remove them and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle on salt while still hot.
Don't forget the guacamole:
Here's how to make Chipotle Guacamole:
- Halve a couple of avocados, remove the pit, and scoop out the flesh into a bowl.
- Toss the avocado with a few squeezes of lemon and lime juice and add some salt. Mash. Then, add finely chopped cilantro, red onion, and jalapeño peppers if you want a little kick.
- Taste. Add more salt if desired (I generally desire more salt), and dip your heart out.
- 16 medium tomatillos husks removed and rinsed
- 6 cloves garlic unpeeled and lightly crushed
- 3 tablespoons ground chiles such as New Mexico (see notes)
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons lime zest from 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- Tabasco to taste
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Tortilla chips for serving
- Preheat oven to broil and set oven rack 6 inches from broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Place the tomatillos and crushed garlic on the baking sheet and place in oven. Broil until charred, about 12 minutes, flipping halfway through. Peel garlic.
- In a food processor, combine tomatillos, garlic, ground red chiles, cumin, lime zest and juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Process until the mixture is smooth. Season to taste with Tabasco.
- Add 1-2 teaspoons extra ground chiles if you would like it a bit more spicy. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve with tortilla chips.