How to Make Thick, Tasty Canned Salsa

To can salsa cruda—literally, “raw sauce”—requires cooking it, but cooked tomato salsa just isn’t the same. Usually, it turns out runny. Commercial salsa makers compensate for this by adding tomato paste, which tastes, well, like tomato paste. To really ruin the texture, some add gums. Home canners often minimize runniness by using paste tomatoes, such as the oblong variety known as Roma. Low in both acid and sugar, these firm, fleshy tomatoes taste bland and boring.

To make canned tomato salsa with both a thick texture and an excellent flavor, I decided to bake some of the water out of assorted tasty tomatoes before mixing them with onions and peppers. Here’s how I did it:

Thick Tomato Salsa

5 pounds tomatoes, preferably no larger than 2 inches wide or long
2 pounds green or ripe peppers, hot or mild, stemmed
1 pound onions
1 cup lime juice
1 ½ tablespoons pickling salt

Heat the oven to 250 degrees F. Halve the tomatoes, and cut out any thick cores. Lay the tomato halves cut-side up in a single layer in two or three low-sided baking or roasting pans—glass, ceramic, or enameled pans will do. Don’t add any oil; you want the tomatoes to dry out. Bake them for about 3 hours, until they have noticeably shriveled but haven’t browned.

Drop the tomato pieces into a large nonreactive pot, halving any large ones with shears as you do so. Seed the peppers or not, depending on your heat tolerance. Then either mince the peppers and onions or chop them briefly in a food processor; be careful not to liquefy them. Add them to the pot along with the lime juice and salt. Stir.

Bring the salsa to a simmer, and simmer it for 10 minutes. Ladle the salsa into pint or half-pint mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Close the jars with two-piece caps, and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.

Store the cooled jars in a cool, dry, dark place.

Makes about 6 pints



0 thoughts on “How to Make Thick, Tasty Canned Salsa”

  1. Would adding cilantro and roasted garlic possible, or should I stick to the original recipe here. Heirloom tomatoes are just calling my name…

    1. Jan, you can certainly add cilantro and roasted or raw garlic. Just include them in the weight of the non-acid ingredients, the onions and/or peppers.
      I usually stir in chopped cilantro just before serving canned salsa, for a fresher flavor.

  2. I like this idea….I have been adding tomato paste and sauce to my own canned salsa and it comes out great….not watery at all. I don’t find that it tastes of tomato paste.
    However, I’ll give your technique a shot next year because roasting tomatoes would be much easier. Note that Salsa #6 in my blog post is your recipe from your book (which is the same as above, but not with roasted tomatoes) I liked the ease of your recipe because I hate peeling tomatoes. Thanks for the tip!

  3. This is brilliant. I oven-dry tomatoes to freeze for winter use on pizzas or in sauces but I never thought of using them to thicken my watery salsa–just been draining the salsa and adding the tomato/pepper water to soups and bloody marys. Sadly the decent tomatoes are gone for me now but I will make a note to try this next season!

  4. Frankly, I don’t mind runny salsa, but some people do. Adding a little tomato paste, as Cynthia does, is another good idea for thickening salsa. Some commercial salsa makers, though, seem to use no fresh tomatoes at all, only paste.

  5. This salsa sounds and looks beautiful.
    I’ve been making your fermented recipes from the Joy of Pickling with great success. I’m wondering, do you have a fermented salsa recipe?

    1. Deborah, brining chopped ripe tomatoes somehow seems wrong to me. How about brining half-ripe tomatoes or tomatillos (as in the recipe for brined cherry tomatoes on page 73 of the second edition of Joy of Pickling) along with hot peppers (as on page 71 of the same edition) and some onions and garlic? Then you could put all the vegetables into a food processor, grinder, or blender to make a salsa. Let me know if you try this, OK?

  6. I will do this and let you know how it turns out. This should probably be an end of season ferment. Perhaps some cumin could be added…seed or ground…

  7. Linda — this was a disaster for me. I’m not sure what I did wrong. I used a tomato that was bigger than a cherry but smaller than a Rutgers. We wound up with a ton of these and they have been quite a challenge to figure out how to use, so this looked perfect. I roasted them at 250 for 4 hours and they were kind of shriveled on the top, but still a bit juicy when I cut them up to put in the pot. As I heated the tomatoes, and added the rest of the ingredients, all of the peels started coming off and curling up like toothpicks and were about as hard. I spent an hour going through all the tomatoes, jalapenos & onions picking out the toothpick peels and still didn’t get them all. Did I not dry them enough? Did I just use the wrong tomato? I’d love to try this again if you have any suggestions. Thanks!!

    1. O’Bryan, I’m sorry about your disaster. It sounds as if you must have had a very thick-skinned tomato, though I don’t know what variety it might have been. Perhaps you could skin such a tomato before slicing and roasting it, but that might not be worth the trouble. I think I’d use a tomato of this sort for canning whole or for making a pureed sauce, after skinning the fruit, of course. If I wanted to use the tomato for salsa, I’d make the salsa the conventional way, by chopping the fruit. You might even try chopping the fruit and then drying it out in the oven.

      1. Linda — I think you were right the first time. These tomatoes do have an unusually thick skin and I don’t think they were cut out for this recipe. Even the smaller pieces of skin wind up as little toothpicks (there was some leftover after I canned 5 pints and we ate it last night –) The salsa is amazingly good because of all that roasted tomato flavor so I think I will try it with some other varieties. As for the strange tomato which may be a Gardner’s Delight, or some kind of unintentional hybrid, they are too small to jar whole. I’d have an aneurism — it would take twenty of them to fill a quart jar. But I have already made some sauce and some vegetable juice. Usually I just whir up the tomatoes in the blender for sauce, but these I put through the chinoise, so I guess I should have known better. Thanks for the advice!!

  8. We made one batch of this and it came out quite well– I’m making a second batch today. The flavor was good and I liked the texture much better.
    I also like salsa recipes that go by weight, they make me feel less nervous about my proportions. 🙂

  9. Hi Linda,
    I made your salsa recipe yesterday and it was WONDERFUL — though I did get some of those “toothpick” skins a previous poster mentioned. I followed your instructions precisely and ended up with exactly 5 pints, not 6. I’m used to some fluctuations in final amounts when canning but these seemed a little extreme. Do you think I need to worry that the balance of acidity is off? We will be giving some away as gifts and I’d hate to give someone botulism!

    I love your books and your blog. Thanks for sharing your creations with us.

  10. Colette, “about 6 pints” probably means I got a little less than 6 pints. Also, your tomatoes may have cooked a little more than mine. How fine the peppers and onions were chopped could make a difference, too. If you’re sure you used a full cup of lime juice, I don’t think you need to worry about the acidity of your salsa.

  11. I was wondering if anyone knows if you can, or how to convert the drying of the tomatoes to a convection oven recipe.

    1. Lois, this will depend on your oven. My oven has an optional convection fan that somehow makes the oven cook very hot. In a better convection oven, I’d try turning down the heat to 225 or even 200 degrees and keeping a close eye on the tomatoes.

  12. Hi Linda: I just made your salsa recipe out of the book last night (I checked this space to see if it was okay to add some garlic, and was happy to find the answer). If the tiny remnants I ate for lunch are any indicator, it’s a winner! I opted to peel my tomatoes just for personal preference, and even so was happy with the consistency. If I were to try a slightly thicker batch by adding a small can of tomato paste, would I need to adjust the amount of tomatoes at all? I figured since it wasn’t a low-acid ingredient it would probably be okay but thought I’d ask. Thanks!

    1. Sara, I think that would be okay, provided the salsa doesn’t become too thick. A really dense mixture might need longer processing in a boiling-water bath. You might instead use meatier tomatoes, or just drain off some of the liquid at serving time.

      1. Thanks Linda. I do tend to drain my chopped tomatoes before measuring, which helps. The most similar salsa recipes from my extension office that uses added tomato paste call for two 12-ounce cans(!) for 3 quarts of tomatoes which seems like way too much! But I think one 5-ounce can (or even half of that) might be a nice compromise without making it too thick. I really like that your recipe is by weight for all the ingredients, its very helpful. I find it hard to judge volumes for chopped tomatoes since they vary so much, and worry when a recipe calls for X number of peppers–even jalapenos range greatly from fruit to fruit! Using a scale seems so much more accurate 🙂

  13. Garden vegetables of a given species have always varied greatly in size, depending on cultivar and much else, but because of the weird biggering of commercial produce (to use a word from Dr. Seuss), we can no longer know what a “medium” onion or “large” bell pepper is. In developing recipes, therefore, I rely more and more on a kitchen scale. Once the scale becomes a standard piece of American kitchen equipment, we can make our lives easier by using scales for measuring flour and sugar as well as fresh produce.

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