Sunday, August 16, 2015

It's time to make the doña.

Dos brujas – red and green doña sauces (and one frightened mollete). © Ryan Schierling
This recipe is nothing new, especially to Austinites. It certainly didn't originate here, but doña sauce is a bonafide Austin staple, and it has been long-studied, dissected, perfected and repeated by others well before Julie and I ever thought to make it ourselves last year. It is a puréed, pale green, fire-breathing dragon of a jalapeño sauce that was introduced by Veracruz-native Bertha Gonzales to local restaurant Tacodeli 13 years ago. She won an employee salsa contest with it, and it is as important to Austin’s culinary history as Matt’s Bob Armstrong dip, Dirty Martin’s burgers and Franklin’s brisket.

There are varied versions of it in squeeze bottles at taquerias all over town, but Tacodeli made it a locally, fervidly-famous comestible.

The food blogger and bulletin board arguments over ingredients are legend, because the original recipe is closely-guarded. Are the peppers roasted or boiled? Some say there’s avocado, or crema, or raw egg, mayonnaise or even mustard in the sauce. Others swear there’s only a touch of oil, and mostly water so the sauce doesn’t gelatinize in the fridge. Everyone’s got an opinion and a recipe.

I was a little baffled though, at why I’d never seen a rojo version of it using red jalapeños. Doña sauce is always green.

So to satisfy my curiosity, I made a rendition with Fresno peppers, which were a little easier to find than red jalapeños this time around. It was naturally sweeter, but had a good, long and lingering back-end heat reminiscent of its verde sibling. We also had to make the traditional green, which was familiar, formidable and feisty. Both sauces just let the peppers be what they are, celebrating whether they’re incendiary or indifferent. I never seed or remove the membranes from them, and just accept that whatever heat level they’re going to provide I will embrace. As soon as our jalapeño plants give me a peck of red peppers, I'm going to bust this out proper.

This is not necessarily a recipe for our friends in Austin, who probably already have one of their own. This is a recipe for our records, for our out-of-town, far-away, food-loving compadres who have not partaken of this wonderful salsa, and for our families, even though my dad breaks into a sneezing fit every time he eats something spicier than jarred mild picante sauce. I doubt he’ll be making it anytime soon. Or, ever. Perhaps my sister and brother-in-law will embrace it. Maybe some cousins.

If you love Mexican food and you love spicy, this receta is definitely for you.

Doña sauce

1 pound jalapeño peppers, stems removed (for red doña, use red jalapeños* or Fresno chiles)
4 cloves garlic
2 pinches kosher salt
1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil
1/4 cup water

Above is the baseline of ingredients. You can char the peppers until blackened, put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes, then peel the skins off. I use this process when making green doña sauce. For red jalapeños or Fresno peppers, I boil the peppers for 15 minutes instead of roasting/broiling to keep the color as vibrant as possible, but if you want to roast and peel the red jalapeños instead of boiling them, go for it. With either pepper type you can also roast the garlic, if you like, which will add additional sweetness.

Put cooked peppers in a blender with garlic, salt and water. Liquify. With the blender running full tilt, add vegetable oil in a thin, steady stream until the sauce begins to emulsify. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Fill a squeeze bottle or pint jar with it and serve it on tacos, tortilla chips, molletes, roasted potatoes, anything, everything. 

Note: This sauce will stiffen up a bit in the refrigerator. Add a few teapoons of water, if necessary, and whisk/shake/stir until desired consistency is achieved. 

*Our jalapeño plants finally popped out enough peppers for me to let them alone until they were red. The red (overripe) jalapeño version of doña, using roasted and peeled peppers, is far superior to anything done with the Fresno peppers. 

The "Gene" taco. Refried beans, potato, bacon and serrano with doña salsa. © Ryan Schierling


  1. Pretty funny-nearly every judge at my end of the table at Sunday's Hot Sauce Fest pegged the green doña when it hit the table. Of course we passed it because it's so damn good!

    1. We've only been here 5 years, and that sauce has become one of my favorite things ever. I don't know how we lived without it before...


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