What Is Romesco and How Do I Make It?

In short: Romesco is a sauce you'll want to eat on everything. And fantastically enough, it's all too easy to make.

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I am a huge proponent of concentrated, flavor-packed sauces that have great potential for many and varied uses in the kitchen. For example, think about pesto...it can sauce pasta, chicken, fish, vegetables, and more. It can be added to soups at the last second. It can also act as the primary ingredient of a dip. But I'd like to suggest another one of these "power condiments" that I think you'll start using all of the time and in many of the same ways: Romesco.

What Is Romesco Sauce?

Romesco is a beloved institution in the Catalonian region of Spain, and it contains many of that beautiful sunny region's signature flavors.While there are probably as many variations as there are Catalonians, most contain some or all of the following ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, almonds, red peppers, nuts (almonds, pine nuts, or hazelnuts), toasted bread, smoked paprika, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and sherry vinegar. It can be used to sauce fish (probably the original usage), chicken, turkey, grilled beef, and vegetables. It's also fantastic as a dip, as a spread on toasted or grilled bread, stirred into rice or pasta, as a sandwich condiment, or added in dollops to soups or stews upon serving. Romesco is not a shy retiring sort of sauce — you will certainly know you're eating it.

Having said that, the flavor is deep, smoky, and robust, but not necessarily spicy or hot. (Of course, you can add any amount of heat you desire.) This extraordinary combination of ingredients does not depend on heat for its power.

Chef John's Romesco Sauce
Chef John's Romesco Sauce | Photo by Chef John.

How to Make Romesco Sauce

As with pesto, a perfectly good version can be made using the food processor. But, again like pesto, the traditional and exceptionally textured/flavored version is made using a mortar and pestle.

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walmart mortar and pestle

Proportions are totally up to you, but for my version, I roast 1-2 garlic cloves (unpeeled), 1-2 medium tomatoes, and 1 large red bell pepper until charred and blistered. Then I peel and core them and add them to the food processor along with some raw garlic, a handful of toasted almonds or hazelnuts, some chunks of toasted country bread or baguette, a pinch of smoked paprika, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a dash of salt. As you can see, this is REALLY a free-form recipe; you'll only know what you like if you try it, and then change things the next time to experiment! Once all of the ingredients are in the bowl of your food processor, pulse until everything is chopped. And then, drizzle in olive oil with the machine running, until it's the texture of pesto. Put it all in a bowl, stir in a splash of sherry vinegar, and taste for salt.

Many people omit the bread from their romesco, but I love the texture it produces. This can be a smooth sauce, a very chunky spread, or any texture in between. I like mine pretty chunky, with a fair bit of bite from the raw garlic. If you don't want to roast tomatoes, tomato paste is a good stand-in. Or, it can be using all red peppers, as mine often is. If you want to follow a recipe to at least get you started, check out a few of these Allrecipes favorites:

Whatever proportions and whatever combination of ingredients, I urge you to make this incredible sauce. I'm pretty sure it will become a staple in your kitchen, as it is in mine. It lasts about a week in the fridge, and can be frozen. And, as an added benefit, you'll also have a bottle of sherry vinegar in your kitchen...and your future salad dressings will be amazing for it.

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