The Story of the Mango-Papaya Salsa

I externed at a restaurant with Floribbean-influenced cuisine when I was in culinary school. They made a mango-papaya salsa in-house that they put on all sorts of dishes as a garnish. One Saturday night shortly after I started, they were running low on this salsa, so they asked me to go down to the prep kitchen and make a big batch. The chef wrote down the ingredients and basic proportions on a slip of paper torn off the ticket printer and I ran down, gathered everything, and got to work.

All the mangoes and papayas were cut into the fine, fine dice known as brunoise, and my knife skills were somewhat lacking, so it took me a long long time to make the gallon or so of salsa that I’d been ordered to create. When I finished cutting, I added all the other ingredients on the slip, tossed in salt and pepper to taste, and took the salsa up to the line for service.

The chef stuck his finger in the salsa, tasted it, and looked at me sadly. He had these brown doe eyes, that stood out on his whippet-thin frame, and he was pretty tall so he was looking down at me. Before he even said anything, I knew I was in trouble. His mouth opened in slow motion. “Did you add salt to this?”

“Uh, yeah, actually I put a fair amount . . . ”

“Why did you put salt in this? Salt wasn’t on the list of ingredients I gave you!” I stared at him, quite taken aback. I’d assumed he was asking me about the salt because I hadn’t used enough. Chef looked at me dolefully and said, “I don’t think we can use this salsa.”

My shoulders were slumping at the thought of starting all over on the salsa. All that time cutting, wasted. And my reputation, fresh-out-of-culinary-school white-girl neophyte, was even worse than it had been when I first walked in the door a few days ago. How could I have been so stupid?

The sous-chef stepped away from the fish station, stuck his finger in the salsa, tasted it and grimaced. “It might work if you juice 2 liters of limes, put the salsa in a china cap, pour the lime juice over, and let it sort of wash the salt out. If not, yeah, it’ll have to be remade.”

I nodded, sucked back a few tears, and ran back to the prep kitchen to get cracking. Twenty minutes later, the salsa was declared edible, and I ducked back behind the salad line hoping I’d be ignored for the rest of the shift.

I never forgot about salting the mango-papaya salsa. And I never will.

Here’s how I make my mango salsa (not the same recipe)…

2 whole mangoes
2 limes
2 tbsp turbinado sugar
1/4 bunch cilantro
Generous squirt sriracha

Peel and dice the mangoes finely. Juice the limes. Toss half the lime juice and the sugar with the mangoes and taste. Add more lime juice as needed to balance the sweet-tart flavors. Finely chop the cilantro and stir it in. Add as much sriracha as you like. Excellent with a chicken empanada, or on top of seared tuna, or piled on fried plantain chips.

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