Smoky, spicy, and downright addictive, my Mom’s recipe for Chile de Arbol Salsa is a family favorite. If you’re someone who can handle serious heat, this delicious homemade salsa deserves a spot on your cooking list.

Perfect for grilling season, this yummy, spoonable sauce pairs especially well with beef, pork, and eggs.

overhead shot of chile de arbol salsa in a stone mortar with some tortilla chips to the side      

I must have inherited my Mom’s and Grandma’s cast-iron stomach, because I never get a stomachache from eating too much salsa or spicy chile. I have to confess that I have eaten an entire bowl of this chile de arbol salsa with a bag of chips in one sitting on more than one occasion. If you can handle the heat, you’ll soon understand why I guzzle this stuff by the bowlful.

What Are Chiles de Arbol?

Literally translated to “tree peppers,” chiles de arbol are also known as bird’s beak chiles or rat’s tail chiles. The bush itself grows like a tree, hence the Spanish name. The animal based names are because of their small, long and slender shape.

chiles de arbol on a white surface

Also popular in Thai cooking, chiles de arbol have a distinctive smoky flavor that makes them a favorite for salsas and hot sauces. The vibrant red color of the pepper is retained even after drying, making my spicy salsa all the more enticing.

In terms of heat or spiciness, chiles de arbol have a Scoville rating between 15,000-30,000 SHUs. That makes them a whopping 6 times spicier than your average jalapeño, so this salsa is not for the faint of heart. (For comparison, this is a similar heat index to cayenne or serrano peppers.) Read more: An Introduction to Mexican Chiles.

You can find dried chiles de arbol by the plastic bagful in Mexican or international grocers, in regular grocery stores in the Hispanic aisle, or online

Why I Love This Homemade Salsa Recipe

When you think of your own refrigerator, I’d bet there are some items that you always keep on hand. In my house, there’s always at least one kind of salsa available. I seriously put salsa on everything.

Salsa for breakfast on eggs or migas, salsa with chips when I need a snack, salsa on basically every savory meal I can think of like brisket, tacos, burritos, nachos, and soups. I sometimes joke that I’m 10% salsa. I’m certainly spicy enough LOL!

This chile de arbol salsa is especially near and dear to my heart because it reminds me of my Mom. I can always count on finding this salsa in her refrigerator. She and I like very spicy salsas, and we love the intensity of this one. This spicy salsa is a favorite of my husband’s, too.

I also love that making a batch only takes 10 minutes start to finish. With a recipe so easy, why would you ever purchase store bought salsa again? This stuff just tastes SO MUCH BETTER than anything you can get at the store.

onion, garlic, canned roma tomatoes and chiles de arbol laid out for making spicy salsa recipe

I’d also wager that you already have most of the ingredients to make this delectably smoky and spicy salsa on hand. Onions, garlic, oil, canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce are pantry staples. All you need to get are some chiles de arbol and you’re ready to roll!

So go out and get some chiles de arbol and meet me in the kitchen, mmm-kay? We’re about to make your condiment shelf a heck of a lot more interesting.

How to Make Spicy Salsa with Chiles de Arbol

This salsa is so easy to make. Watch this video to see how simple it is!

Heat canola or olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add chiles and toast for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly so chiles are fried well and change color.

chiles de arbol frying in a cast iron skillet

Add onion and garlic and fry for 2 minutes, again stirring constantly.

onion quarters and garlic cloves added to skillet with chiles de arbol

Transfer fried ingredients to a food processor or blender and add whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, and salt. Purée until salsa is smooth with specks of chiles. Add salt to taste.

overhead shot of spicy salsa ingredients in base of a blender

Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Serve as a salsa dip or to top off your favorite tacos or tostadas. Enjoy!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find chiles de arbol to make this salsa?

In the recipe below, I used dried chiles de arbol, which they sell at every Mexican grocery store. Look in the produce section, where they’ll likely be pre-bagged and ready to go.

Many grocery stores will carry them in the “ethnic” aisle, and you can always find them on Amazon.

Do I need to soak chiles de arbol?

To use dried chiles, there is no need to soak them in boiling water before use. Simply, lightly toast in a skillet. Do not over toast or the chiles might become bitter.

Can I make this salsa ahead of time?

Absolutely! It should keep for up to a week in the refrigerator, or up to three months in the freezer. You can also go about canning it to give as gifts or to preserve your chile pepper harvest beyond the season.

Can I make this chile de arbol salsa less spicy?

Sure! I’d start by reducing the number of chiles by half. It’s easier to add more if needed. These peppers are quite small, and removing seeds is challenging.

If it’s still too spicy for your liking, I recommend you add more tomato sauce or check out some of my other homemade salsa recipes that are less hot like salsa de casera or salsa verde.

Need more heat?

Check out these other recipes that’ll set your mouth on fire:

overhead shot of a bowl of chile de arbol spicy salsa with a blue and white tea towel and crispy tortilla chips

overhead shot of a bowl of chile de arbol spicy salsa with a chip sticking out of it

Chile de Arbol Salsa

4.75 (4 ratings)
This salsa is spicy and smoky and pairs well with eggs, steak, brisket, and ribs.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 20 chiles de arbol, stemmed (do not remove seeds or veins)
  • 1 small white onion,  quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup canned peeled whole tomatoes
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions 

  • Heat canola oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add chiles and toast for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly so chiles are fried well and change color.
  • Add onion and garlic and fry for 2 minutes, again stirring constantly.
  • Transfer fried ingredients to a food processor or blender and add whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, and salt. Puree until salsa is smooth with specks of chiles. Add salt to taste.
  • Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.
  • Serve as a salsa dip or to top off your favorite tacos or tostadas.

Video

Notes

  • This recipe makes 2 1/2 cups. 
  • If it's too spicy for your liking, I recommend you add more tomato sauce.
  • Serve as a salsa dip or to top off your favorite tacos or tostadas.
  • Chile de arbol salsa can be stored in the refrigerator 3 to 5 days, or frozen for many weeks.
Calories: 36kcal, Carbohydrates: 7g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 645mg, Potassium: 258mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 652IU, Vitamin C: 9mg, Calcium: 23mg, Iron: 1mg

Photography by Raemi Vermiglio

Originally published: January 2016. This recipe is also published in the Muy Bueno cookbook.