Tacos of Texas

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October 3, 2023

Salsa Magic

By: Mando Rayo

A taco is only as good as the salsa that tops it off. Let’s do a breakdown of the salsas that complete our favorite tacos, from taqueria style, to hot sauces. We’ll talk about the science of peppers with “The Chileman” Paul Bosland and see how different chiles perform on the Scoville Pepper scale. Mr. Bosland is the former director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University and has published more than 150 scientific papers and co-authored five books, including the Official Cookbook of the Chile Pepper Institute. We’ll also eat chips and salsa with the Fantastic Fuego team, Tony Nuñez and Stephanie Sanyour, while getting to know how they went from Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival competitors to packaging their own salsas. Then we’ll go into my home kitchen to make one of my favorite salsas and how to pair them up with your favorite tacos.

The full transcript of this episode of Tacos of Texas is available on the KUT & KUTX Studio website. The transcript is also available as subtitles or captions on some podcast apps.

Intro Hola. My name is Tina La Cochina. I’m a comedian from Rob’s Town, Texas. Growing up, to me, that goes sound like my mom and my sisters talking in the kitchen with my mom at the stove, flipping tortillas with her bare hands, adding chile powder to the ground beef, meat sizzling, smashing the refried beans, stirring the rice. And my sisters are at the table preparing the shredded cheese, cutting the lettuce and tomato, chopping onion and cilantro for the pico de gallo and guacamole. I’m in charge of bringing the ice for the sweet tea. This is comedian Tina La Cochina and you’re listening to Tacos of Texas on KUT.

Mando Rayo What do you call a person who adds too much salsa on their taco? Pos un salsero. [trills rhythmically] [laughs] What’s up, Taco world? I’m taco journalist Mando Rayo and welcome to the Tacos of Texas Podcast season tres produced by Identity Productions in partnership with KUT and KUTX Studios. And we’re back exploring taco culture in Texas through the eyes of the people in the Lone Star State. So grab a jalapeno and eat it en solo a mordida get ready for some muy tasty taco conversation. [music] In today’s episode, we’re talking about one of the most important ingredients of any taco. That’s salsa magic. We’ll talk to an expert on chiles who will give us some muy hot facts, including how spice levels are measured and what makes chiles picar in the first place. We’ll get to know Austin-based, award-winning salsa makers Fantastic Fuego. And then we’ll go back to my kitchen and play with some of my favorite taco and salsa pairings. All of this and today’s Tacos of Texas. [music] Eating a taco without salsa is like a party without Los Angeles azules as it’s like Austin without Barton Springs. It’s like me without my taco hat. I mean, why wouldn’t you want salsa? It’s magic. The combination of a specific kind of chile with sometimes tomato, tomatillo, garlic, onion, salt, oftentimes with oil. And you can play with other variations. I mean, what you get is liquid heaven to complement your favorite tacos and dishes or even scoop it up with some chips and salsa. And my go to Salsas, man, I got three always in the back of my pocket, in my refrigerator, in my cupboards. I’m talking about the creamy jalapeño that everyone loves. And that’s the taqueros special. My chile de arbol salsa, really I only make it for myself because I’m the only one that can eat it but porque me pica pero me gusta. And of course my salsa quemada, great when grilling over coals. You get that quemada in the chiles and the tomatoes and the garlic. You blend that up and it’s thick and chunky and it hits the spot every time. And speaking of me pica pero me gusta, I got this thing at home we call the chile challenge. I line everybody up, not only my kids, but their friends. Everybody gets either a little bit of salsa or even fresh and raw jalapeño. And it’s go time. See who wins this chile challenge. By the end of the challenge, somebody’s definitely crying, but that’s okay because, you know, it builds character. That’s what it does. It builds character. And I went through the same process. My tío sat me down when I was five years old with a bowl of beans and a raw, whole jalapeño. And he told me no te vas a ir de la mesa a te toque lo cadas. And of course, I cried my eyes out and I went from tears of pain to tears of joy. So where did the salsa originate? A post by Biomuseo, a Smithsonian affiliate in Panama, says that the pepper arrived in Europe in 1494 after Columbus thought he’d found again the same fruit that India used to make pepper. The post points out that the domestication of the chile began in what is now Mexico, long before the arrival of the Spaniards some 6000 years ago. According to the website The Nibble, the making of a sauce by combining chiles, tomatoes and other ingredients like squash seeds and even beans has been documented back to Aztec culture. Bernardino de Sahagún, a missionary from Spain, is currently the earliest person that we know who documented salsas. It takes us as far back as 1529. He wrote a lot about the foods he observed in his Florentine Codex, which is basically the encyclopedia he made about his observations of the Mesoamerican culture that had just been conquered by Spain. In 1568, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, author of the book The True Story of the New Spain Conquest, describes that the Indigenous people of Cholula wanted to kill and eat them because they had pots ready with peppers, tomatoes and salt. Ha! He was scared. I would have been so happy to be with those Cholulans and these deadly pots of salsa. A few years later, in 1571, Alonso de Molina, a Spanish pirest and interpreter, gave the magic potion its name: salsa. In the Austin Chronicle’s brief history of chips and salsa, it says that bottled hot sauces like Tabasco were already making their way to the table by the late 1800s, but that salsa as a dip began to take hold in the early 1900s and quickly became a staple by the forties throughout the Southwest and in metropolitan kitchens. The Nibble explains that salsa’s popularity in the U.S. exploded in the late eighties, when sales skyrocketed by nearly 80% nationwide, knocking ketchup out of the way as a most popular condiment. Yeah, I ain’t putting no ketchup on my taco. [music] [crunch sound effect] Oh, it’s taco time. And now here’s a word from our sponsors from me. Vamos had Chuco Town con Visit El Paso. It’s the hometown of this taco journalist. Feliz cumpleaños! El Paso turns 150. On May 17th, 1873. The Texas legislature approved an act to incorporate the city of El Paso. Since it’s a corporation, El Paso has aged gracefully to reach an extravagant age of 150 years old. Within the last century and a half, El Paso has shaped itself to become a one of a kind destination filled with rich history, exciting culture, diversity, countless adventures and attractions. Long before El Paso was El Paso, our desert home was known by a different name. Spanish explorers first lent the name El Paso del Norte to the combined areas we now identify individually as El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. From that former name to the influence of Pachucos zoot suiting around El Chuco, or to the familiar landscape and infamous heat rooting the idea of the Sun City. Whichever way you choose to reference it, the name, the land and the sights all possess a piece of history waiting to be discovered. Some of the most well known facts that are shared among El Pasoans revolve around the alligators that once roam around San Jacinto Plaza. Perhaps you’re aware of the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa’s visit to the tip of Texas, or how the very first high rise Hilton Hotel, now known as the Plaza, was first built here. Wherever you find yourself in El Paso, you’re living in some part of the past. Take a step back in time as you travel to some popular places that make El Paso’s history special. Muchas gracias to our friends at Visit El Paso for sponsoring this podcast episode. Follow Visit El Paso on Instagram and Facebook at Visit El Paso or on their website at Visit El Paso dot com. [crunch sound effect] Did you know that Waterloo Greenway is building a park system through downtown Austin? Once completed, the project will reach from Waterloo Park, located near the Capitol building, all the way to Lady Bird Lake. Waterloo Greenway and the City of Austin just broke ground on the second phase of the project: the confluence. Located by Waller Creek Boathouse, now under construction, the confluence will feature suspension bridges, hike amd bike trails, a boardwalk, and many green spaces. Arboles y plantas. So you can get up close and personal with nature. Check out some of the awesome renderings of what the future of Waller Creek will look like once the confluence is complete at Waterloo Greenway dot org slash future. Make sure to follow Waterloo Greenway on Instagram and Facebook at Waterloo Greenway and on their website at Waterloo Greenway dot o-r-g to stay up to date with construction progress. Mil gracias to our friends at Waterloo Greenway for sponsoring this podcast episode. [music] Before we get into talking about salsas, our first guest is Paul Bosland, who is also known as The Chileman. He is the former director of the chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. Hey, there’s a new Mexico? He is recognized internationally as a foremost expert on chile peppers. Boston has published more than 150 scientific papers and coauthored five books, including The Official Cookbook of the Chile Pepper Institute. We’re calling in Paul to give us some chile pepper basics. Thank you, Paul. Thank you for joining us today. I hear you’re quite the chile expert.

Paul Bosland Well, I was at New Mexico State University for 33 years running the chile Pepper breeding program and was director of the chile Pepper Institute. So, yeah, I always like to joke with people that I put all my chiles in one basket.

Mando Rayo I love that I am a chile man myself. But I hear that’s what they call you, The Chileman.

Paul Bosland That’s right. It was kind of a nickname given to me early on because I was actually hired to be a vegetable breeder. Worked with some other crops, like whole crops, broccoli, cabbage, little bit of asparagus, spinach, but then realized I could spend all my time on chile peppers and not answer all the questions that needed to be answered scientifically. So that’s what I did.

Mando Rayo That’s great. I love this. I love this. So let’s get into it. Can you give us a breakdown of what makes a chile pepper hot and why some are hotter than others?

Paul Bosland Well, what makes chile peppers unique is they have this alkaloid we call Capsaicinoids. Most people hear capsaicin, and that’s what gives you that bite, that heat when you bite into it. And the fellow last year won the Nobel Prize for learning that it’s actually a heat receptor that the chemical attaches to. And so it sends a false signal to your brain that it’s hot, even though it’s not temperature hot, but your brain is sensing it is.

Mando Rayo Oh, interesting.

Paul Bosland We discovered over the years about 24 of these different compounds, these different alkaloids, these capsaicinoids, and each one has a different effect when we eat them. Some will come on rapidly. Some are a delayed heat, some linger, some dissipate quickly. And one interesting one is some have what we call sharp heat. It feels like pins sticking you, a prickly heat. Then there’s more of a flat heat like it’s been brushed on your tongue or in your mouth. And so there’s a flat sharp and Asian chiles are famous for being sharp. That’s really what they like is that sharp heat. And a chile de arbol from Mexico, has that sharp heat. And so you get that tingling effect.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Paul Bosland And then, of course, the food industry says mild, medium and hot. But we actually measure chile heat in Scoville heat units. And this was a test devised many, many years ago. And it’s really a taste test. So Mr. Scoville would make up a cocktail, a little drink, you would drink it, and if you noticed the heat, he would dilute it some more until you say, I don’t taste the heat anymore. And he used five tasters when they all said the heat was gone. That became the heat unit. And so, for example, there’s something has 1,000 Scoville Heat units, it means you have to dilute that product 1,000 to 1. If it’s 10,000 Scoville heat units, you have to dilute it 10,000 to 1. So the higher the number, the hotter the chiles. And pure capsaicin, the chemical is 16 million Scoville heat units. And the hottest chile we know is the Trinidad Scorpion, which is about 2 million. So we still can make them a lot hotter.

Mando Rayo Oh, man. [laughs] I remember one time I had a, I think, just an extract of like habanero at a chile festival or something. And man, that knocked me down. My ears were ringing. I started sweating. My eyes started tearing up. So can you tell me a little bit about kind of the body’s reaction to, like the different heats?

Paul Bosland It is a heat receptor, and so your body is sensing, oh, this is this is hurting me. It’s a pain. You know, you’ve got to stop. But the interesting thing is when you lose that sensation of heat, when you’re eating something, it’s not that the chemical has disappeared. It’s your body has produced endorphins to block that pain. And so there was a classic experiment where they fed happiness to students and said, okay, let me know when you don’t taste that there’s no more heat. And when they raise their hand, they injected them with a endorphin blocker and the heat came back. So they knew it was endorphins being produced by your body to protect that heat.

Mando Rayo Oh, man. Can you talk a little bit about the senses that you get, like maybe in the top of your tongue all the way to the back?

Paul Bosland I tell people, you know, you can actually become a chile connoisseur. And when you get salsa in a restaurant, you can actually tell what chile they use by that heat profile is what I call it. A heat profile and a jalapeño will be on the tip of your tongue. It’ll be kind of off the flat heat. It will come on rapid and dissipate fairly well. And so the comparison to that would be the habanero, which is delayed heat, lingers and it’s in the back of the throat. Then the New Mexico pod type that we grow here is a middle of the palate, flat heat, comes on fairly rapid, dissipates quickly. When we first started breeding chiles, we thought we would breed two different kinds of chiles, one that had a lingering heat for medicinal use. This was actually Scoville worked for a pharmaceutical company trying to standardize a cream to kill muscle aches and pains. You put the cream on and we we have those products today called capsaicin or heat. But we thought with food you’d want a dissipating heat so you would eat more product. And so that, that’s. But then we found out, no, it doesn’t really matter that people aren’t that picky yet.

Mando Rayo Is there a sense that you can build up your tolerance?

Paul Bosland You do after about a year if you are eating mild. You’ll now be medium. If you’re a medium, you could be the hot. But your genetics is a big part of it. In those heat receptors, we all vary in that. The more you have, the more sensitive you are. But that’s a two edged sword. One, if you don’t have very many heat receptors, you can eat very, very hot chiles, but you can’t tell the difference very well. But if you have a lot of receptors, you notice all subtle differences. And I always like to tell people, think of chile heat is like salt. Too much salt ruins a dish, but just a little bit makes it taste so much better. The same with chile heat, a little bit just makes it taste so much better.

Mando Rayo Yeah, there. I love that. I grew up eating a lot of heat. We’re vecinos, you know, here in Las Cruces. I grew up in El Paso and traveled throughout New Mexico. And so for me, it’s always interesting when I come to Central Texas, like the heat dissipates.

Paul Bosland It’s true. I mean, there are really regional differences down in southern New Mexico. We like it really hot, too. Wherein northern New Mexico, it’s a little not as hot. They like our chiles, a little milder. But also, you have to realize all of these different chiles that we see now, like serrano, jalapeño. Maybe you have some medecil, the wild Chiltepin. They all have different flavors, too. There’s more than 5,000 different chiles in the world, and these have been selected to be used in cuisines. So if you were in India, you would get a different chile then you’d get in Texas. If you’re in New Mexico, you get a different chile. And that’s because of the flavor profiles that we’ve selected as humans. We’ve picked these over. The wild Chiltepin is kind of the mother of all chiles. That’s where we started. And then as humans, we began to select for flavor profiles, heat profiles that we like to use in different dishes. You know, even if you go to Mexico, you’ll notice in regions, there they have different chiles. Oaxaca is different than the Yucatán, which is different from Chihuahua. And so that’s because, you know, culture wise, over the years, they like that. We plant a teaching garden with more than 150 different chiles at the university. And I always kind of get a chuckle when the international students go through and they’ll say, Oh, there’s my chile. That’s my chile. You know, they associate with that. Over time, you can learn these little flavor subtleties and use them to make different salsas. And I think you see that a lot now with chefs. They’re using these different chiles to make these little subtle differences. It’s hot, but you also get a different kind of heat profile in flavor.

Mando Rayo Mm hmm. Yeah. No, I definitely see that. I’m going to give you a list off of different chiles and peppers, and you let me know kind of where they fall. [bite sound effect] [flame whooshing sound effect] Jalapeño in the Texas Mexico region.

Paul Bosland Normally we say 5,000, but there’s actually no heat jalapeños. And we released one that’s very, very hot. It’s up to 100,000. So you could go the whole range. [bite sound effect] [flame whooshing sound effect]

Mando Rayo Chile de arbol.

Paul Bosland Chile de arbol, usually about 15,000, maybe to 30,000. Again, these these are so much. They’re a delicate chile, believe it or not. They’re grown under trees in Mexico. They need a little more delicate environment. And so if you grew here in New Mexico, truly going to be at the high end. But if you grow in a backyard and some shade or probably at the lower end.

Mando Rayo Okay, chile de arbol is what I make a lot of my salsas with. [laughs] [bite sound effect] [flame whooshing sound effect] Guajillo.

Paul Bosland Guajillo is a very fruitful flavor. Some people say maybe like a prune note to it or a plum note, but it’s usually around… in our world, we say mild. 2,500. Yeah. It’s not too hot.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah. [bite sound effect] [flame whooshing sound effect] Chile piquín.

Paul Bosland Very hot. 50,000 to 100,000. In parts of South America and Mexico. They pop like little pills to control their stomach. They say the heat is easy on the stomach. So you go, I don’t like chiles. It hurts my stomach, piquíns would be a good one to try.

Mando Rayo Well, I’m definitely going to take that to note.

Paul Bosland Okay.

Mando Rayo And the last one. [bite sound effect] [flame whooshing sound effect] Habanero.

Paul Bosland Rule of thumb will say 100,000.

Mando Rayo 100,000.

Paul Bosland We actually had no heat habaneros. We bred one called New Mex trick or treat. It looks like the normal orange habanero, but it has no heat but all the flavor and aroma and they use it in blending to make the salsas not so hot. But I also people we called it trick or treat because you could plant the normal orange habanero in your backyard. You take one of the trick or treats, bite it, eat it like, oh, and give the hot one to your neighbor. They bite and go, Oh my God, that’s so hot. And you look pretty macho.

Mando Rayo Yeah. [laughs] Well, Paul, before we go, can you tell us a little bit about your latest book?

Paul Bosland You’re it’s The Official Cookbook of the Chile Pepper Institute. We describe the different chile varieties, what the flavor, what the heat profile is. We provide two recipes for each chile and beautiful photographs of all the chiles throughout the book. If you want an autographed copy, order at the Chile Pepper Institute, otherwise Amazon and all the book stores.

Mando Rayo Oh, perfect. We’ll get ourselves a copy for sure.

Paul Bosland Good, good.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Does it come with, like, a free stack of chiles or anything? No bag? You know, directly from New Mexico.

Paul Bosland No but I’ll tell you what: if you come to Las Cruces, and I’ll give you a tour of the garden. Bring the book and we’ll do a tour of the garden.

Mando Rayo Paul, thanks so much. It’s been so great to talk to you. So informative. Now I know what levels my my peppers are, and I will keep climbing that mountain.

Paul Bosland There you go. [Mando laughs] There you go. Be brave.

Mando Rayo All right. All right. Thanks again. Take care.

Paul Bosland Bye bye.

Mando Rayo Our next guests are Tony Nuñez and Stephanie Sanyour from the Austin based salsa, Fantastic Fuego. They’ve won four Scovie awards and multiple award from the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. We’re going to sit down and eat chips and salsa in the studio with Tony and Stephanie. Welcome to the show.

Stephanie Sanyour Thank you.

Tony Nuñez Awesome. Great to be here.

Mando Rayo First things first, I know you brought your salsas with you, right. And chips. So let’s break it down and have a little conversation.

Tony Nuñez Here we go. The big reveal.

Stephanie Sanyour Alright, what have we got?

Tony Nuñez We brought our four main salsas. We have the attack of the killer tomatoes.

Mando Rayo Okay, cool.

Tony Nuñez The green inferno.

Mando Rayo The green inferno.

Tony Nuñez Machete.

Mando Rayo Machete, nice.

Tony Nuñez And hard ticket to Hawaii.

Mando Rayo Hard ticket to Hawaii. Mira no mas.

Tony Nuñez And then if we’re all feeling up to it. I also brought my personal favorite: death wish hot sauce.

Mando Rayo Oh, dang. Okay. Is this like, the one drop the thing or?

Stephanie Sanyour You can put more.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Órale, órale.

Stephanie Sanyour Are you ready for some fuego?

Mando Rayo Yeah, I’m ready for some fuego.

Stephanie Sanyour Let’s do it. All right. [sounds of chips crunching] Dig in.

Mando Rayo So this is the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Oh, that. And that’s good. That has a bite. Man. That’s good. Tell me a little bit about how you all started Fantastic Fuego.

Tony Nuñez I been making salsas for years. And different food, different dishes, never to never intend to sell. But it was just mostly to as a side passion of mine to cook and for whenever there was a potlucks, I would bring salsas and people always give me great feedback. Hey, why don’t you sell these? And I’m like, nah it’s just for fun. And then over the years of refining the recipes, when I met my wife Stephanie, she introduced me to the salsa macha I started making my own version of that, and she said, You need to enter this at the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. And I had to listen to her, you know? So I…

Mando Rayo Yeah?

Stephanie Sanyour She knows. [laughs]

Mando Rayo As you should.

Tony Nuñez As I should.

Stephanie Sanyour Yeah, that was on our first wedding anniversary, too.

Mando Rayo Oh, really?

Stephanie Sanyour Yeah.

Mando Rayo Oh, my goodness.

Tony Nuñez The festival took place on August 25th in 2019, our one year anniversary. And to my great surprise, the salsa won first place.

Mando Rayo Oh, wow. That’s amazing.

Tony Nuñez And I was in shock. I was like, I never really entered contest before or anything, but it gave me…it shined a light on me and like, maybe this is my calling. Maybe I should start selling these.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah.

Tony Nuñez So Fantastic Fuego was born on that day.

Mando Rayo Nice. Nice. And you all, you’re, you’re a couple. How did you all meet and decide to go into business together?

Stephanie Sanyour Well, we met because he used to work in media. He used to work for Telemundo, CBS, Austin, and I used to work for Univision. And so, you know, rivals have. [she and Mando laugh] Only management cares about that stuff.

Stephanie Sanyour So we had a friend in common that was leaving town for another gig. And so we went to that party and we met at this table, you know, over chips and salsa. And that’s how it all began.

Mando Rayo That’s how it all starts, right? You start with the chips and salsa, you know.

Tony Nuñez Who would have, who would have thought?

Mando Rayo And then one year later, you do the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. Right?

Tony Nuñez It was this happened in 2016. And then we, after two years, we got married.

Mando Rayo Oh, wow.

Tony Nuñez And one year later is the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival.

Mando Rayo Well, I was a judge for a few years, so.

Stephanie Sanyour Oh, nice.

Mando Rayo So you’re welcome. [crosstalk and laughter] I don’t know, I don’t know if that was me. So tell me a little bit more about what goes into making all these different salsas. We have the tomato, we have the macha, the green inferno, and pineapple and. Okay, so this is the pineapple. So what goes into creating the different very specific styles?

Tony Nuñez Yeah, well, each salsa has its own profile. We don’t want to make one salsa that’s mild, medium hot of that version of the same salsa. We wanted to create different flavors and explore different flavors. So what we focus on is flavor first and then the spice. So we wanted to explore different flavors to see how we can get the flavor right where it is. You can still enjoy the spice and if they were combined the balance. So this is a fun job for me though, when I’m creating salsas. My, my passion is also movies. So they’re all nicknamed after movie titles.

Mando Rayo Okay. Okay. Okay. I see the fantastic.

Tony Nuñez So when I’m like, All right, I love the different titles. Like, Oh, right, this could be a pineapple salsa. So I’m like, I need to make a pineapple salsa. I love…

Mando Rayo Wait, wait, wait. Out of Pineapple Express.

Stephanie Sanyour Almost.

Tony Nuñez That’s a tough choice. Pineapple Express and a Hard Ticket to Hawaii.

Mando Rayo Oh, right, right, right.

Tony Nuñez So I wanted to make them more obscure and then start exploring with what I know. Like, I never made a pineapple salsa before. And so I always look back to my family traditions like my mom. My mom’s cooking was a is a big inspiration for me. So how am I going to do a pineapple salsa? My mom never made him pineapple salsa before.

Mando Rayo Right.

Tony Nuñez I just take it back to: Okay, on Thanksgiving, she will make a glaze ham and she’ll put pineapple on the side with a clove. And I’m like, I’m going to use a clove idea with the pineapple and incorporate that into the salsa. And then once I started messing with that, I was like, All right, this is it. Yeah. I just had add habanero and different spices, but I got the direction. So each salsa has its own story. Like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, the one you’re trying there, is one of my oldest where I was just taking him to potlucks and people were just eating it all up with chips.

Mando Rayo Yeah, Yeah.

Tony Nuñez And I just mess with different variations of that, like all jalapenos and tomatoes. And then I started adding serranos. Then I went after it. And like, a little bit of habanero, chipotle. But no, no. Let’s go back to the basics. I had something great here and with different balances in trial and error because it’s just like a hobby of mine. So I got to refine it, right? Oh, it is addicting to me. It’s going to be addicting to people out there.

Mando Rayo Yeah, right, right, right. And so you do also have one that’s kind of one where death wish.

Tony Nuñez Yes. That’s my go to taco sauce.

Stephanie Sanyour That’s his favorite.

Mando Rayo Oh, yeah.

Tony Nuñez That’s my go to taco sauce.

Stephanie Sanyour Puts it on everything.

Tony Nuñez I bring, bring flavors from my childhood was in East L.A., California so I bring flavors from there and then I, my high school college years were West Texas. So I’m bringing those flavors and then bring it here all to Austin. And then and Death Wish is one of my is my inspirations for my one of my favorite taco places in L.A. They had a secret sauce. So based on those memories of that sauce, I’m like, I’m going to just get inspired to make my own version. That reminds me of that sauce.

Mando Rayo So are you the kind that, you know, both of you like, Oh, well, we make our own salsa, we sell our own salsa. Or go to a restaurant and you pull it out of your side of your pocket.

Stephanie Sanyour Oh. [Mando laughs] Well he does.

Mando Rayo Some of the, when you go to, like some Tex-Mex restaurants there, the restaurant salsa, you know, it’s like. It’s not the…

Stephanie Sanyour Yeah, he likes to bring that one to restaurants.

Mando Rayo You have a holster for it?

Stephanie Sanyour That’s the next step.

Mando Rayo You working on a custom holster? I know, I know a good guy in La Pulga.

Stephanie Sanyour [all laugh] Nice. Hook him up. He’s been putting it in my purse so far.

Mando Rayo So what, what goes into making a good salsa?

Stephanie Sanyour Hmm, that’s a good question.

Tony Nuñez Yeah, it’s all about ingredients. We start with the basics and get the freshest ingredients that we can and get to get to know those ingredients and start messing around. And what really goes into it is having a love for it. It’s having, having the love and patience for creating a good sauce is the key. So like I always go to my wife here for that inspiration, right? I want to make this this salsa here. But what do you think I should do or mess with? And she’s not like the biggest spicy fan. She kind of gives me the…

Mando Rayo You’re saying she’s not spicy?

Stephanie Sanyour Ah, well, so I was I was born and raised in Chile. And so in my country we don’t really have that.

Mando Rayo Chilena?

Stephanie Sanyour Chilena.

Mando Rayo ¡Ándale!

Stephanie Sanyour Sí pue.

Mando Rayo Ahí.

Stephanie Sanyour El ahí, eso. [both laugh] And so I didn’t grow up with this but actually I have a little story. When I was growing up, we had a Peruvian maid and she would really eat spicy foods. And so I was curious. I’m like, Oh, what’s that? Can I try some? She said, Yeah, eat some. And so then she would feed me hot stuff. Hot stuff like salsas and hot sauce behind my mom’s back. And so that that kept going on for a while. And so my mom found out and then she told there, Please stop. You know, like, I don’t I don’t feed her that way. You know, don’t, please, please stop, you know. And she said, okay, all right. But it was too late. I was already hooked.

Mando Rayo Yeah, you’re hooked.

Stephanie Sanyour Right. And so since I was little, I already had that crave for spice, but just not the tolerance that this guy has.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Stephanie Sanyour So, like, this guy is like. And so it’s funny because, like, at the markets, like, I tell them, like, he caters to that crowd that just wants that fire. And so just put a lot of it all over your tacos. And like for me it’s like, Hey, this is flavor. It’s always flavor first and then fire second. And so I’m like, Hey, I can handle I can even handle the Death Wish. But like, for me, it’s a couple of drops, you know? But like, just to get that kick and that spice, but to not die. You know?

Mando Rayo Yeah. [laughs] You want you want to survive.

Stephanie Sanyour Yes. Of course.

Mando Rayo Yeah. But you like more of the pairing, right?

Stephanie Sanyour I, you know what? I learn a lot of the pairing from this guy because, like, he likes to pair everything, so he’s like, Oh, we’re watching a Korean film. So we got to have Korean food and Korean drinks, and I’m like, Really?

Mando Rayo Oh, I see. He ultimate pairs.

Stephanie Sanyour Yeah. Ultimate pairing for with because of the movies and I’ve been learning how to pair stuff because of him. And for me it’s a lot of the cooking. I love cooking with this stuff, you know? So, like, what can I do with that green? What can I do with the with the red? But like, also him. Like we both like to be in the kitchen, experimenting and creating stuff.

Mando Rayo So what do you make with some of your shots?

Stephanie Sanyour Oh, okay. So I really like with the green, green chile pork. I love that. And so I always ask him, like to make it one of the dishes for the week and he’s probably tired of it.

Tony Nuñez I am.

Stephanie Sanyour I ask for it often.  Tthe green one is made with a hint of Mexican oregano. And so it’s funny because it kind of happened as an accident, but we put it on a plain quesadilla and it tastes like a pizza because of that oregano.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah, right, Right.

Stephanie Sanyour That was fun. The machete’s awesome. That’s my favorite. I’m biased. And so that one night I put it on on Chinese food, on rice, as a marinade. We put it as a as a spread on bread. Like, it’s just very versatile.

Mando Rayo Yeah, yeah, I love it. The machete obviously from Machete.

Tony Nuñez From Machete.

Mando Rayo But it’s a macha salsa.

Tony Nuñez It’s a salsa macha because the word “macha”, like machete. [crosstalk] I had to give it a movie title. And that’s the one that started it all. That’s the one that won first place.

Mando Rayo Oh, really?

Stephanie Sanyour Oh, yeah.

Mando Rayo So for people that don’t know what salsa macha is, can you explain it to us?

Tony Nuñez Oh, yeah, of course. It’s originally is famous in Veracruz, Mexico, as usually involves a type of oil and a type of nuts and different combination of chiles. We make it with olive oil. We make it with almonds because my mom love cooking with almonds and then three different peppers. We guajillo, chipotle and chile de arbol. And it looks like a chili oil like you find Asian restaurants but it’s more like with the Mexican flavors from the from the chiles.

Mando Rayo Salsa macha is one of my favorites.

Stephanie Sanyour Nice.

Mando Rayo Yeah, I think one of the first times I saw you was at a Frida Friday. So where can people find your salsas?

Tony Nuñez So we do a lot of pop-up markets. We have our farmer’s markets in Georgetown and Bee Cave, and we’re on the waitlist for the ones here in Austin and Mueller. Everybody wants us in Mueller farmers markets. We’re like, I know we’re in the waitlist. You know, we keep bugging them, but hopefully one day so we can, you know, serve our community here closer to home.

Stephanie Sanyour Please tell Mueller.

Tony Nuñez Please tell Mueller. [all laugh]

Stephanie Sanyour It’s our campaign.

Tony Nuñez We are carried in some small local stores, the biggest of those stores is Tom’s Market. Okay. There’s four locations here. They’re being really great with us. And they we we have our salsas there. We also have a couple of other mom and pop shops like the Tia’s Market up north. We are at the Austin night market, both locations, and a few other ones. Our biggest client here is at the airport. We have a we have a store at the airport that get supplies travelers with their Fuego fix.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Nice. That’s awesome.

Stephanie Sanyour It’s called a Fifth and Congress on gate 28.

Mando Rayo There you go, there you go. Make sure you check in before you check out.

Stephanie Sanyour Of course. Because people were asking us at the markets like, hey, do you have a sample size? Because I’m traveling. I only have a carry on. And well, we don’t have that right now, but just go to gate 28 and get get you the full size.

Mando Rayo I know, right?

Tony Nuñez The essentials, you know.

Mando Rayo Yeah, the essentials, there you go. So last question. If somebody wanted to make their own salsas, like me, what does it take to do that?

Tony Nuñez Look for inspiration from within your family, from yourself and things that you love and incorporate that into the sauce. And then you gonna find that passion for it. Like because it comes from my personal space and then it all just kind of comes together. My mom, my mom, though, cooking with chicken bouillon, you know, with their her rice and some of her sauces, that Attack of the Killer tomatoes has that chicken bouillon. So once I started adding that, I’m like, oh, you know, this should be, this reminds me. This brings back all these memories and it gets incorporated in the sauce and this is a winner. I cannot change it. And then people are loving it. So that’s a win. I was just doing it for me.

Mando Rayo Yeah, Yeah. Now you spreading the salsa love.

Tony Nuñez Oh, yeah. As you should.

Mando Rayo Well, Tony and Stephanie, thank you so much for coming to the studios and for bringing me all these awesome samples. I’m like, I’m set.

Stephanie Sanyour Of course.

Mando Rayo I’m set, you know.

Stephanie Sanyour When you run out, you know where to find us.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah, I do. I do. Thanks so much for coming in.

Tony Nuñez Thank you for having us.

Mando Rayo Well, that was a muy fantastic conversation on salsas. Now we’re going to head to my casa and play around with some salsa pairings and I’ll show you how to make my very own taquero green salsa. So now I’m going to make that creamy green salsa that you see at all the taco spots. I call that the taquero creamy green salsa. And it’s super basic, super simple. We got some jalapeños, fresh jalapeños, you boil them until they’re nice and soft, a little bit of ajo and some salt and the the magic of the secret sauce. You heard it here first. It’s canola oil. Some people think it actually has avocado or even sour cream, and some people do put that. But I don’t I got straight up. You want to make a salsa creamy? You put that canola oil in there. Let’s go. [sounds of ingredients entering a blender] I just added the jalapeños. They’re nice and soft and you can deseed if you want. I don’t. Because you know what? I like it hot. I added a little bit of garlic or ajo and of course some salt. [sound of the molcajete grinding salt] And for me it’s a sabor, you know, for whatever taste you like.  And of course we top it off with a little bit of the canola oil. I would say 1 to 2 teaspoons. All right, then. You’re solid, you’re good. You got your opinions in there. You still have the juice from the water that it was boiled in, so you don’t need to add extra water. So I kind of like it. Nice and creamy versus watery. Now you’re going to hit that blender fast. [blender whirs] So you get yourself a little bit of a spoon and you put a little dab of salsa on the top of your hand because pro-tip the bottoms of your hands are the dirtiest part, right? And then you taste it, and then you can figure out, okay, I need some salt. Porque yo soy salero, right? All right, let’s serve it up with some tacos. [chime sound effect] We have three taco styles: al pastor, fajitas, and of course my go to, one of my favorites is carnitas. For the salsas, we have chile de arbol, tomatillo, and of course that that taquero creamy green salsa that I made here at my house. Taco pairing number one. I go to with my chile de arbol straight on into the first bite tacos al pastor. Yeah, you know that chiles with the al pastor and the chile de arbol just takes it up a notch, you know, It’s like the red on red brings it home and it spikes it. Check. Next is taco pairing numero dos. My go to is a tomatillo on the fajitas. I’m going to pour some tomatillo on there to add that tangy flavor. [foil unwrapping] A comer! You know if you have a good fajita that’s marinated with citrus and then you top it off with that tanginess of the tomatillo. Check. Finally, we have taco pairing numero tres, tres, tres. Carnitas and they top it off with the creamy green taquero salsa. Pour that on top. You know me carnitas always hit home because you got that sweetness, the pork, the moist and the crispy and the fattyness of the pancitas. Right. So that creamy greens has not only cuts it, but balances it out. Check. So there you have it. We have three styles of tacos, three styles of salsas. You got what you need. Go out there and do some salsa magic. [music plays] Me pica pero me gusta. What a spicy episode of Tacos of Texas. We gave you a rundown of some chile pepper basics that you can share with your friends to add a little spice to your conversations. We introduced you to Fantastic Fuego, and we even tasted our way through some delicious salsa pairings. If things got a little too heated for you. Remember that you can have some milk or ice cream to tame that burn. Special thanks to our guest, Paul Bosland, a.k.a. The Chileman, former director of the Chile Pepper Institute and el jefe Tony Nuñez and la jefa Stephanie Sanyour of Fantastic Fuego based in Austin, Texas. Shout out to some of my favorite salsa makers, Cochinita and Co. based in Houston, Texas. Humble House in San Antonio and Jalepeña Salsa out of Corpus Christi, Texas. This has been the Tacos of Texas podcast, developed and produced by Identity Productions. If you enjoyed today’s episode and are craving more taco content, go to our website at w-w-w dot Identity dot Productions or follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube at Identity Productions and United Tacos of America. This is your host, Mando y holy en chile, Rayo. Vamos a los tacos. On the next próximo Tacos of Texas. Inside Encuentro, we give you a look inside the invite-only anthropological and culinary gathering in Houston, Texas, put on by the Texas Indigenous Food Project. There’s food, storytelling, tastings, y mas.

Outro The Tacos of Texas podcast is presented by Identity Productions in partnership with KUT and KUTX Studios. Our host and producer is Mando Rayo. Our audio is mixed by Nicholas Worthen and Ever Calderon. On our story producer is me, Sharon Arteaga, and our creative producer is Dennis Burnett. Music was created by Peligrosa in Austin, Texas, and King Benny Productions, located in the Quinto barrio of Houston.

This transcript was transcribed by AI, and lightly edited by a human. Accuracy may vary. This text may be revised in the future.


December 19, 2023

Bonus Episode: The intersectionalities of Black Mexicans with Chef Adrian Lipscombe. 

Chef Adrian Lipscombe grew up in San Antonio and we’ll discuss Texas foodways from her Black heritage to growing up in the gateway to South Texas, San Antonio. Chef Lipscombe is the founder of the 40 Acres Project, a city planner and Culinary Diplomat with the U.S. Department of State.


December 12, 2023

Bonus Episode: Regional Taco Flavors of Texas

From border to border, El Paso to Brownsville and a little in between, we’re gonna talk tacos regionales and just like the musica itself, there’s many elements and things that go into them. Our guests include Miguel Cobos from Vaquero Taquero and Paola Gabriela from Visit El Paso.


November 7, 2023

Taco Pop Culture: A Taco Talk on All Things Tacos on the Interwebs

Stephanie Guerra, of Puro Pinche, hangs with us in the studio to talk taco pop culture.


October 31, 2023

Black Mexicans, Part 2: Tracing the foodways of Black Seminoles and Mexicans in Texas and Mexico

There is so much untold and uncovered history of the African diaspora, especially that within the lineages of slavery. Food can signal a variety of possibilities within history, and in this episode, we examine the melding and the migration of Black Seminoles across Texas and into Mexico. We join Windy Goodloe and Corina Torralba Harrington, […]


October 24, 2023

Black Mexicans, Part 1: Tracing the foodways of Black Seminoles and Mexicans in Texas and Mexico

There is so much untold and uncovered history of the African diaspora, especially that within the lineages of slavery. Food can signal a variety of possibilities within history, and in this episode, we examine the melding and the migration of Black Seminoles across Texas and into Mexico. We join Windy Goodloe and Corina Torralba Harrington, […]


October 17, 2023

Archiving Our Food History: What Goes Into Researching and Saving Oral Recipes and Histories.

In this episode, we talk to Dr. Meredith E. Abarca about putting together her online archive El Paso Food Voices. Author and blogger Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack shares how she has used her cookbooks as a way to archive her family’s recipes.


October 10, 2023

Inside Houston’s Encuentro: The Native American Roots of Texas Mexican Food

The complex cuisine of Texas goes back before the land was known as either Texas or Mexico. In this episode, we visit Houston’s two-day, anthropologic culinary event Encuentro. We learn about the Native American roots of Texas Mexican food from both scholars and chefs present at the event.


October 3, 2023

Salsa Magic

This episode includes a breakdown of the salsas that complete our favorite tacos, from taqueria style, to hot sauces. It includes the science of peppers to a local hot sauce brand’s origins. Then we’ll go into my home kitchen to make one of my favorite salsas and how to pair them up with your favorite tacos.