Other than my wife on our wedding day, Chef Maria Mazon is the only woman who has ever brought me to tears.
As she was claiming victory on that historic Sunday afternoon, I attempted to blink my tears away as I went back for a second helping of her roasted habanero salsa.
Yes, fellow heat-heads, abuse is in abundance at Mazon’s Boca, 828 E. Speedway Blvd.
So what was I thinking, you may ask? Enduring such a palate-beating like this and then going back for more?
I questioned my own motivation and turned to Mazon for answers.
“I absolutely love heat too, but it’s very difficult to produce a salsa that has intense levels of heat while maintaining the rainbow of flavors you expect from a salsa,” she said. And this was the challenge that inspired her to create a salsa that tasted as good as it burned.
“Anyone can throw every chile known to mankind in a blender, with any old vinegar, and call it salsa,” she said, “but they won’t get the flavors that mean something.”
While Mazon stopped short of disclosing all of her salsa’s ingredients with me, the big secret to producing this kind of salsa is really no secret at all.
“I start by roasting the habanero peppers and letting them rest in their own natural oils and juices overnight,” she said. “I then blend these with salt, garlic and other magic, along with a good balsamic vinegar.”
Mazon tells me the balsamic brings a “secret sweetness” to the salsa, in addition to the acid notes on which the heat from the chiles rely for greatness.
What’s most fascinating to me is that the salsa’s flavor is actually enriched by the heat itself. The roasting and resting process, which Mazon says is the foundation of the flavor, also makes the habaneros “meaner and meaner by the second.”
As one of Tucson’s agave authorities, Mazon had some interesting suggestions for pairing this incendiary salsa with a quality tequila.
“You don’t really want to pair this salsa with a blanco or silver tequila,” she warned. “The crispness of these tequilas may contribute to the burn, and you would likely miss the agave notes,” she said.
“Instead, try an aged anejo, like the Casa Amigo or Blue Nectar Special Reserve. The barrel aging of the anejo brings smoky notes to the experience, which works really well with the hotter salsas.”
And what taco on Boca’s slate of more than 20 selections is the best fit for a salsa as hot as this?
“That’s easy, the chipotle BBQ taco,” she said, featuring grilled boneless pork ribs roasted in a chipotle BBQ sauce.
Mazon features at least six salsas on her menu at any given time and she rotates most of them on a daily basis. While you never know when the roasted habanero salsa to which I personally succumbed will be on the menu next, Mazon assures me that she always features a salsa that fans of the fire will enjoy. She may even consider alerting Boca’s Facebook fans when the “Salsa That Made Matt Cry” makes a triumphant return.
If you think a habanero is just about heat, think again. But be sure that your pockets are stocked with Kleenex before you head to Boca.
(Editor’s Note: Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 4-5 p.m. Saturdays on KNST 790-AM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030-AM.)