Making Tacodeli-inspired Doña sauce from scratch

Updated Aug 12, 2014

Hatch peppers aren’t the only spicy food that fires up Austinites.

Live here long enough and you’ll hear about Tacodeli’s Doña sauce, a searing green sauce that the restaurant has been serving for more than a decade, ever since a cook named Bertha Gonzales whipped up a batch of this creamy salsa from her hometown of Veracruz, Mexico, where she once operated a taco truck.

When I first told that story on Relish Austin, I ran a Gonzales-inspired recipe for a spaghetti casserole that calls for the sauce, but now I’m here to tell you how to make the actual sauce.

Tacodeli doesn’t say what exactly goes into their Doña, but they certainly aren’t the only ones in town who serve some variation of it. I’ve heard about some restaurants frying or roasting the jalapeño or serrano peppers before blending them, while others simply boil them in water. There’s debate over whether the sauce needs garlic or what kind of oil best emulsifies the puree, but I’m a fan of this version from the Austin-based blogger Homemade Mommy: a garlicky aioli-like sauce emulsified with olive oil.

Last week, I made my own version of the Doña sauce using a dozen peppers given to me by chef Justin Raiford of Bess Bistro and Walton’s Fancy and Staple. They are from the restaurants’ organic farm off Cuernavaca Road that is managed by his friend Michael Ford, who also works at the Natural Gardener.

Raiford says that Ford drops off produce from Morsels Farm twice a week, and that although the restaurants can’t source all of their produce from that one-acre property, it produces hundreds of pounds of herbs and vegetables a month. Right now, that means eggplant, okra, tomatoes, summer and winter squash and more than half a dozen varieties of hot peppers, including the serranos, jalapeños, super hot 75 and Thai chilies I got last week.

I knew that if I didn’t batch cook the peppers all at once, they would slowly shrivel up in the vegetable drawer until I finally threw them in the compost next month. (A sad confession from a non-Texan, I know.)

A hot sauce seemed like the best way to achieve this goal, and I was surprised at how quickly it came together.

After boiling the peppers, the rest of the steps took less than five minutes to complete. That’s less time than it takes to drive to Tacodeli from my house, which counts as a win in my book.

Knock-off Doña Sauce

12 jalapeño or serrano peppers, de-stemmed

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/3 cup olive oil

Hearty pinch (or two) of salt

Boil the peppers in a medium pot of water. Simmer for about 12 minutes, until the peppers are cooked and start to darken. Reserve some of the cooking water, and then strain the peppers using a colander.

In a blender or food processor, process the peppers, garlic, 1-2 Tbsp. of the cooking water and salt. Once these ingredients have come together, turn on the machine and slowly add the olive oil so that the sauce starts to thicken and become creamy. This sauce keeps in the fridge for about three weeks.

— Addie Broyles, adapted from a recipe by Homemade Mommy (