Do you love pico de gallo like I do? It’s a classic Mexican tomato dip (or sauce) that adds a fresh, healthy, low-calorie boost of flavor to just about any Mexican meal.
When I was little, I piled pico de gallo on my tortilla chips at our nearby Mexican restaurant and called it dinner (refill, please). I didn’t fully appreciate pico de gallo’s wonder, though, until my family traveled to Mexico one summer when I was in college.
We stayed at an all-you-can-eat resort, which meant all-you-can-eat pico de gallo. Their pico de gallo was super fresh and utterly irresistible, and I piled it onto every single meal. Eggs! Tortillas! Beans! Spaghetti, even! Why not?
It’s funny that I’ve shared so many variations on pico de gallo over the years, but never my classic pico de gallo recipe. Today is the day. Let’s make pico de gallo while the tomatoes are still good.
Pico de gallo is so easy to make. You will need only five ingredients (six if you count the salt): ripe red tomatoes, white onion, jalapeño, cilantro, lime and salt. That’s it!
What’s the difference between pico de gallo and salsa?
Pico de gallo shares the same basic ingredients as traditional red salsa, but the preparation methods are different.
Pico de gallo always uses raw, diced ingredients. It’s less wet, and it adds a wonderful chunky texture and substance to tacos and more. Salsa can call for roasted or stewed tomatoes, and is generally closer to a purée in texture.
Both are delicious, both go great with guacamole, and I often layer pico de gallo over salsa for double the flavor (if only you could see my regular burrito bowl order at Chipotle).
Pico de Gallo Translation & Pronunciation
I bet Chipotle calls their pico de gallo “tomato salsa” since it’s easier to say! You might also see it called salsa fresca (fresh sauce). Pico de gallo literally translates to “rooster’s beak,” but no one’s exactly sure why.
Here’s how to pronounce pico de gallo in unofficial Kate-style mark-up: PEE-koh day GUY-yoh.
How to Make the Best Pico de Gallo
Here are my top tips to ensure that you make the best pico de gallo you’ve ever had.
1) Use ripe red tomatoes.
Ripe tomatoes are absolutely key to making great pico de gallo. Sad pink tomatoes do not make good pico de gallo. Roma tomatoes are a good choice since they are less watery, but use the most beautiful red, ripe tomato variety available. Core your tomatoes and remove the seeds before chopping. Use every last bit of the red tomato flesh inside!
In the winter, you can use cherry tomatoes, which tend to have good flavor year-round. Be prepared to chop them into small pieces, and perhaps give the finished product some extra time to marinate since cherry tomatoes tend to be more firm than most.
2) Chop your ingredients very finely.
Chop your tomato, onion, jalapeño and cilantro finely and you will be rewarded with more flavor in every bite. This is worth the extra effort!
3) Let the onion, jalapeno, lime and salt marinate while you chop the tomatoes and cilantro.
I learned this trick from this recipe. I’ve tested pico de gallo both ways (marinated onion/jalapeño vs. tossing all the ingredients together at once). The marinated onion/jalapeño batches were indeed my most flavorful batches.
Full disclosure: It’s possible that my tomatoes for those batches were better, so I’m not entirely convinced that the method made the difference. This “step” doesn’t take any extra time, though, so I recommend it.
4) Let your pico rest for 15 minutes before serving.
This step gives the flavors time to mingle and brings out their best. As the tomatoes and remaining ingredients rest, the salt draws the moisture out of the ingredients and condenses their flavor.
Try your pico de gallo before and after marinating, and you’ll see what I mean! If you won’t be serving the pico de gallo immediately, you can refrigerate it for several hours or even overnight.
5) Serve with a slotted spoon.
Tomatoes release a good amount of moisture, so you will see some tomato juice pool at the bottom of your bowl. The easiest solution here is to serve your pico de gallo with a slotted spoon or large serving fork.
This way, you don’t transfer a ton of moisture with your pico. Say no to soggy nachos!
Uses for Pico de Gallo
You can basically treat pico de gallo like salsa. It’s a healthy and refreshing condiment welcome on any of the following:
- Burritos and burrito bowls
- Huevos rancheros
- Or serve it as a dip with tortilla chips, of course!
Pico de Gallo Variations
Remember, tomatoes are a fruit! You can simply replace the tomato with other tender fruits like mango, peaches, pineapple strawberries, or even sweet corn, and adjust to taste.
Sometimes, I’ll use red onion instead of white, or add a red bell pepper for crunch, or throw in an avocado. Here are some variations on pico de gallo that I’ve made and loved:
- Mango salsa
- Peach salsa
- Strawberry salsa
- Chunky avocado salsa
- Corn salsa
- Pineapple salsa (see my cookbook, page 106)
As always, please let me know how you like this recipe in the comments! I’m excited to hear how you serve your pico de gallo, and please share any tips you might have.
Classic Pico de Gallo
- Prep Time: 15 mins
- Total Time: 15 mins
- Yield: 4 cups
- Category: Dip
- Method: Chopped
- Cuisine: Mexican
This pico de gallo recipe is fresh, delicious and easy to make! You’ll need only 5 ingredients to make this classic Mexican dip—tomato, onion, cilantro, jalapeño and lime. Recipe yields about 4 cups (about 8 servings).
- 1 cup finely chopped white onion (about 1 small onion)
- 1 medium jalapeño or serrano pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped (decrease or omit if sensitive to spice, or add another if you love heat)
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt, more to taste
- 1 ½ pounds ripe red tomatoes (about 8 small or 4 large), chopped
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (about 1 bunch)
- In a medium serving bowl, combine the chopped onion, jalapeño, lime juice and salt. Let it marinate for about 5 minutes while you chop the tomatoes and cilantro.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and cilantro to the bowl and stir to combine. Taste, and add more salt if the flavors don’t quite sing.
- For the best flavor, let the mixture marinate for 15 minutes or several hours in the refrigerator. Serve as a dip, or with a slotted spoon or large serving fork to avoid transferring too much watery tomato juice with your pico. Pico de gallo keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 4 days.
Change it up: Add a diced avocado to the mixture, or see my list provided above the recipe for alternatives to tomatoes.
Cilantro haters: You can significantly decrease the amount of cilantro used, or omit it completely if you insist! I don’t recommend substituting parsley here.