The Tucson Jazz Society Celebrates Salsa.
By Rebecca Cook
WHAT COMES TO mind when you hear the word "salsa?" The word means "sauce" in Spanish, but aficionados would scoff at a comparison to any substance thickened by a creamy roux, such as a béchamel or hollandaise sauce. Salsa, as we know it here in the Southwest, far surpasses such commonality.
Or perhaps when you hear the word "salsa" your hips start to sway to the imagined strains of a particular form of Latin jazz music with that moniker.
Which is it to be, the zesty "sauce" or the driving beat?
If you're lucky enough to attend the Tucson Jazz Society's Some Like It Hot event, the answer is both.
From 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday, August 31, the public will have the opportunity to take a plate of chips and sample a wide variety of salsas while dancing to the music of The Tucson Latin Jazz Orchestra led by Luis Torres. In addition to salsa, the orchestra will also perform merengues, cumbias and other Latin music designed to get you up out of your chair and moving. The gates swing open at 7 p.m.
And plan on whipping up a large batch of that salsa your friends say you should market a la Paul Newman and bring it along for the Some Like It Hot cook-off.
Two categories of salsa will be featured, commercial and individual. You may enter as many different salsas as you'd like, but bear in mind you'll need two quarts of each in order to have enough to feed the panel of hungry judges as well as the munching, dancing public. Salsas should be freshly made within the preceding 48 hours and need to be kept at a temperature of 45 degrees or less until serving time. Salsa should not be vacuum-packed, canned or hermetically sealed. At the time of entry, contestants will need to present a driver's license or picture I.D.
If it seems a little crazy to have an entire event centered around a sauce, you haven't been keeping a close enough eye on American eating trends.
Salsa has recently dethroned ketchup, for years the reigning king of condiments, as the number-one accompaniment for foods ranging from appetizers to desserts.
If you think the state of salsa is confined to the usual tomato, onion, chile and garlic concoction, you definitely need to expand your world view.
Salsa may be cooked, left raw or made with a combination of cooked and uncooked ingredients, including the usual tomatoes, papaya, mango, pineapple, jicama, corn and tomatillos.
Like the music it shares its name with, salsa can be somewhat improvisational, with the resultant variations cause for oral ecstasy or gastronomic disappointment. Preparing salsa is a deceptively simple task involving few ingredients and no heavy-duty, state-of-the-art equipment. However, an exceptional salsa will demonstrate a remarkable balance of opposing textures, temperatures and tastes, which isn't as easy to achieve as it sounds.
According to P.J. Birosk, author of Salsa, an authentic salsa should possess an element from at least three of the following categories: sweet, sour/tart, spicy/hot, savory, herbal and aromatic. Without this three-pronged balance, says Birosk, the recipe fails to stimulate the taste buds and seduce the senses.
The amount of heat a particular salsa may emit depends upon the kind of chiles added to the mix, the hottest being the habanero chile, which knows no equal in terms of incendiary intensity. Obviously, the verdict on how hot a salsa should be is a completely individual affair, with some assuming a macho "when-it's-too-hot-for-everyone-else, it's-just-right-for-me" attitude, while others claim too much fire destroys the palate's ability to appreciate a subtle blend of flavors.
If you're planning on sampling salsas all night long, you might want to keep a tissue handy in case you come down with a case of the salsa sniffles, also known as gustatory rhinitis. A phenomenon familiar to anyone who dabbles in the ingestion of fiery foods, this condition is annoying, albeit harmless and transitory.
So, take your appetite and your tapping toes to St. Philip's Plaza this Saturday and enjoy the music, both
for your mouth and your soul. Viva la salsa!
Tucson Jazz Society sponsors Some Like It Hot: A Salsa Cook-Off and Dance Party, from 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday, August 31, at St. Philip's Plaza, 4380 N. Campbell Ave. Tickets are $9, $5 for TJS members, available at the door.
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