Mangos. So many mangos. A fast start to the season and then as the supply dwindles, a longing for, a wistful glance back at all the things that could have, should have been done. When I got back last year, after a year's absence, I found myself wishing that I had bought truckloads of mangos, pureed and frozen them and then had them to work with for the remainder of the year. Instead, by late April I was scouring the markets for the few stragglers who had stubbornly hung on the trees so I could realize my mango menu fantasies.
This year, I've been a bit more pro-active. I just finished processing part of a 20 Kilo delivery of the delicious beauties into frozen puree for ice creams. Umm, ice creams. And the other part I turned into two large batches of an all purpose sauce I've been working on for the better part of a year, "Salsa de la Jungla". Yes, that's right. First it was Chef of the Jungle, now it's Sauce of the Jungle. I've wanted to create a sauce that was uniquely and exclusively Costa Rican in both ingredients and flavor.
What I've been working toward is an intensely flavored, all purpose sauce that is almost like a Costa Rican barbecue sauce, without the tomatoes of course. I have been looking to create a sauce that can be added to other ingredients to "bump up" the flavor, but also functions on its own as something that can be brushed on or ladled onto cooked fish, pork, chicken or even iguana. And I believe, that after many batches and much experimentation (all of it highly edible, of course) I have come up with a recipe for a bulk batch that may or may not find its way into smaller bottles for resale.
The primary component is, of course, mangos, cooked for several hours with citrus; I've been using both mandarinas and whole kumquats (when they're available) and have been including a few rinds for a semi-but-not-too-strong marmalade effect. To balance the tartness of the citrus juice and rind I have been adding a local raw sugar, tapa dulce (canela), the cooked extract from sugar cane. Additionally I have been adding "miel de la cana", or "miel de pulga" (honey of the the flea) as it is known locally, a liquid extract also from cane. I like it for it's syrupy property as well as its haunting organic flavor and aroma, somewhat like a pumpkin or hard squash smells when it caramelizes.
Naturally with all this sweet and citrus flavor competing and combining there has to be something that cuts through the density of the mango and the cloying sweet of the tapa dulce, and this is where the local ginger and habanero chiles come in. I use a fistful of grated ginger and a couple of habaneros, thinly sliced. As the habaneros are never of the same heat level every time, I bite the bullet and take a gentle lick of each one that I add. The little heat rush I suffer is worth the greater suffering of adding too much and making the sauce an "experts only" version. One can always add more chile and heat, but it's impossible to take it out.
All of this goes into a stainless steel pot and cooks slowly for a couple of hours. The cubed mangos begin to break up and the citrus juice bubbles up around the sides, combining with the sugars to make a deep golden syrup. I taste and taste as it cooks, looking for that perfect combination of the sweet, the sour, and the ginger/chile hit. I am also looking for that vague hint of bitterness that the citrus skins will add. I want the sauce to have a voice of its own; one that sits up and barks a bit, but I don't want it to be unapproachable.
After the sauce has cooked, combined and stewed for a few hours, I puree it and let it sit to cool before it gets refrigerated overnight. I taste it again the following day to see if any of the flavors have "won" out in the balancing act and need to be mellowed, or in some cases, strengthened. Now I have a gallon or so of a multi-use sauce. As I said, it is great brushed onto grilled or roasted meats, poultry or fish or added into other sauces to boost their flavor. Lately I have been cutting it with coconut milk, mustard, chicken or fish stock and olive oil for a sauce to go with fish or chicken over rice. I am finding that the possibilities are staggering. The mangos are here and this year I'm trying to make the most of them. It's time to order another 20 Kilos.