Food News

Fort Lauderdale's Jo-Jo's Tacos: Get the Ghost Chili Salsa and Prepare to Sweat

"I was hearing from customers that our salsa just wasn't hot enough," said Joseph Parsons, chef at Jo-Jo's Tacos in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. "So I decided to make a salsa from the hottest stuff I could find." 

Parsons ordered dried Bhut Jolokias to conjure serious heat.

A chili pepper from the India and Bangladesh border region, the peppers also known as ghost chilis can rank at more than a million units on the Scoville scale. Compare this to Tabasco, which falls in the 2,500 to 5,000 range. 

"Smell that perfume," Parsons said as he took whiff of dried chilis in a ziplock bag. A couple of dozen Bhut Jolokias -- each about the size of a thumb -- offered up a seductive earthiness.

"Just douse with a little bit," said the woman sitting next to me at the bar last night as I contemplated how I'd sample the first bite. I'd had ghost peppers before in a flank steak marinade and knew what to expect. I was concerned. 

Dip a tong of a fork in the sauce and pair with a bite of carnitas. The first flavor you'll note is roasted tomatoes, followed by a creeping heat that starts in the back of your mouth, rolling through the your nose to the top of your head like an incoming tide. Just a little lasts for five minutes or so, a throbbing heat that, strangely, does not mute the characteristics of the food it accompanies. 

Parson's ghost chili salsa is also made with roasted tomatoes and red onion, though it's lighter in color than his other tomato-based salsas. I thought he'd added dairy to offset the heat. I was wrong. "You know when you go to some restaurants and the salsa can be downright soupy?" he asked. "I whip this in the food processor to add some air, for viscosity." That's what makes it lighter, he said.

Parson sells a medley of salsas in addition to the ghost chili number: a red and brown Chipotle and a Mexican Arbol chile salsa are currently on the menu. The bright, acidic salsa verde is the least popular, he says: a surprise, considering it's a taqueria standard. The salsa menu makes for adventurous eating, an appeal to regulars at the bar. "It's addictive," said the woman next to me. "I get the hot stuff when I come here every time."

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Food Critic
Contact: Melissa McCart