I never thought to question my favorite Pico de Gallo recipe until I read about a different method for making it from someone I trust. Always up for a challenge (especially when it comes to food!), I decided to make them both, side by side, to compare their taste and texture.
Both recipes call for classic Pico de Gallo ingredients (also called salsa fresca): tomato, onion, serrano or jalapeño chiles, fresh cilantro, fresh lime juice, and salt. The difference was in how the tomatoes were prepared. To seed or not to seed, that is the question.
What's the difference between salsa and Pico de Gallo?
The main thing that sets Pico de Gallo apart from salsa is that it is less wet because all of the ingredients are raw and easy to distinguish individually. This makes it a perfect addition to Mexican food favorites like tacos, burritos, tostadas, and nachos, adding flavor and texture without excess liquid.
I've always seeded my tomatoes (generally Roma tomatoes, but I've also used plum and even cherry tomatoes) when making Pico de Gallo. But in one of my favorite cookbooks, The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt, the recipe calls for dicing the tomatoes without seeding, tossing them with salt, then draining in a colander for 20 minutes before combining with the other ingredients.
In deciding which recipe I preferred, there were two factors: taste and wetness, i.e., how well it would work as part of a recipe. If you're just dipping tortilla chips, the wetness isn't much of a factor, but no one wants a soggy taco or burrito.
The verdict: I thought both versions were delicious, but I'd give a slight edge to my tried and true recipe with seeded tomatoes (Option B). It was slightly less wet than the drained version and the seasoning was more balanced. I prefer the salt to be distributed among all of the ingredients from the beginning, not concentrated in the tomatoes.
That said, seeding tomatoes does take a little time. It's a simpler process to just dice the tomatoes, toss them in salt and drain while you prep all of the other ingredients. So there is certainly a place for this method.
How did Pico de Gallo get its name?
It's a great question and, as far as I can tell, nobody knows for sure. The literal translation is "roosters beak." One theory is that the tip of a serrano pepper has a beak shape, another says that when eating it with your hands, your thumb and forefinger pinch into a beak shape.
How long does Pico de Gallo last?
Refrigerated in an airtight container, it's best eaten within 3 to 5 days. From the second day on, I recommend draining off any water that has accumulated and testing for seasoning (both lime juice and salt) before serving.
How to Seed a Tomato
To seed a Roma tomato, cut in half lengthwise from stem to bottom. Then use a small spoon or your index finger to remove the watery seeds. Use the same process for plum tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, but cut the tomato in half across the middle (equator) instead of from top to bottom. See photos below:
How to Reduce Onion Pungency
This is an optional step, but I mention it because often raw onions are too pungent for me. When I'm using raw onion in a recipe, I typically slice or dice it and then soak in an ice bath for 10 minutes. This not only reduces the onion's pungency, but crisps it too! Be sure to thoroughly drain onions and pat dry before using.
- Carne Asada Tacos
- Carne Asada Burrito
- Carne Asada Nachos
- Pulled Pork Quesadillas
- Pulled Pork Nachos
- Chicken Tostadas (with homemade Tostada Shells)
- Tortilla Chips
- Mango Salsa (I love to serve these side by side to offer dipping / topping options!)
- Vegetarian Tamales (I love to pile this on the top!)
How to Make Pico de Gallo
Step 1: In a large bowl combine seeded and diced tomatoes, finely diced white onion and jalapeños, finely chopped fresh cilantro, lime juice, and salt.
Step 2: Toss to combine; let stand 15 minutes for flavors to meld. Serve.
Pico de Gallo
- 2 pounds Roma Tomatoes seeded and diced small (recipe note #1)
- 1 small white onion finely diced (recipe note #2)
- 2 medium jalapeños or serrano chile, seeds and membrane removed, finely diced (recipe note #3)
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (recipe note #4)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice about 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Add more salt to taste.
- Let stand 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Serve.
- Alternatively, dice tomatoes small without seeding and toss with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Drain in colander 20 minutes then combine with remaining ingredients (omitting salt). Season with more salt if desired.
- To crisp onion and reduce pungency, add diced onion to ice bath and let sit 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry then proceed with recipe. Optional.
- For a spicier version, leave seeds and membrane or use serrano chiles which tend to be spicier. For a milder version use 1 jalapeño or serrano chile. I recommend wearing gloves when preparing raw chiles as their liquid can severely irritate your skin.
- Many recipes call for removing cilantro leaves from stems, but I find that tender stems work well when finely chopped. Your call!