Easton Salsa owner shares techniques and recipe for hot pepper sauce
November 01, 2011 By Diane W. Stoneback, Of The Morning Call
About the only food Art Skrzenski eats without hot sauce is his morning bowl of Lucky Charms in milk.
The Wilson Boro resident and owner of Easton Salsa Co. adds his personal brands of liquid heat to just about everything else he eats, from macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes to grilled chicken, turkey and roast beef sandwiches.
His followers — the customers who frequent area farmers markets including Easton, Bethlehem, Saucon Valley, Emmaus and Macungie — share his love of hot sauce, salsa and other fiery foods. "When one young woman and her 10-year-old son stopped at my stand, she told her son to tell me how he uses my hot sauce. The youngster, about 8 years old, said, 'in fruit smoothies'," recalls Skrzenski.
Another customer owned up to drizzling Skrzenski's Hot Chocolate Hot Sauce on vanilla ice cream. But it's not because the sauce contains chocolate. "There isn't any chocolate in it. Its name comes from the peppers I use to make it — chocolate habaneros. They turn chocolate-brown when they're ripe," he says.
Skrzenski makes other small-batch hot sauces including Devil's Fire and his hot-selling Farmers' Market Hot Sauce when he's not meeting the demand for his fresh and bottled salsas that account for the lion's share of his business.
To make the Farmers' Market Hot Sauce, he buys up all kinds of locally grown hot peppers he finds at the farmers markets where he has stands. "I freeze them until I've got enough to make another batch. Each year's version tastes different because the peppers vary so widely. But my customers love it. The 2010 Farmers' Market Hot Sauce contained more than 20 kinds of hot peppers. I made 150 bottles of it and sold out of it within three weeks," he says.
Art's Polish Salski (with tomatillos, jalapenos and peaches) and Shawn's Pineapple Salski (with jalapenos, serranos, garlic, cilantro and pineapple) are being spooned onto all kinds of entrees and sandwiches serving as dips for chips and veggies. He also crafts three distinct salsas for Porter's Pub in Easton and Dave's Deli and Terra Cafe locations. But his hot sauces also are adding dashes of heat and flavor to foods all over the Lehigh Valley.
"I'm seeing a growing interest in spicy foods in the Northeast," he says, although he concedes meat-and-potatoes, Pennsylvania Dutch-types are the hardest to convert. "They're not used to intense flavors, even though the hot sauces really could liven up their dinners," he says.
Skrzenski understands their reluctance. After all, his Polish roots didn't provide any foundation for introducing him to spicy foods. "I grew up eating foods like kielbasa, sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage and pierogies, so my parents and I don't know where my love of spicy foods came from."
But he credits an aunt with showing him how to make fresh salsa when he was 10 and says he bought his first bottle of hot sauce when he was a teenager. "I started using it on Mexican foods like tacos, burritos and enchiladas. Then I added it to Asian foods … and then to more and more foods, including periogies," he says.
The 1987 Phillipsburg High School graduate spent four years working in Albuquerque, N.M., where he solidified his love of spicy foods. "It was the 'mecca' of hot sauces," he explains.
When he returned home and first made his recipe for fresh salsa, Skrzenski's friend and business partner, Shawn Sefcik of Easton, told him he should consider selling it. Further encouragement came from Skrzenski's winning the Easton Farmers Market's annual salsa contest three years in a row.
LEHIGH VALLEY STYLE
ART’S POLISH SALSKI
WARNING: ART’S POLISH SALSKI may send your taste buds into shock! The fresh ingredients and green color make this salsa a cool complement to the ordinary tortilla chip and its fiery spiciness will invigorate even the toughest palate.
The award-winning salsa recipe, created by Arthur Skrzenski of the Easton Salsa Company, contains tomatillos, peaches, tomatoes, onion, hot peppers, cilantro, garlic, distilled vinegar, and salt.
For those who can’t stomach the heat, try the less-spicy (but still kickin’) Shawn’s Pineapple Salski created by Shawn Sefcik, which contains pineapples instead of peaches and less than half of the peppers. According to Arthur and Shawn, “Salski” is their fun way of saying salsa since both owners are of Polish descent. They also think the twist on the name adds to the product’s uniqueness. Both recipes should be kept at 35-41 degrees Fahrenheit and are best consumed by the date labeled on the side. No preservatives here, folks. Salski is made locally in Easton in small batches to retain freshness.
Five Questions: Easton Salsa Company's founders discuss the origins of their unique condiment
AUG 25, 2009
Lehigh Valley Live
Art Skrzenski and Shawn Sefcik started selling their homemade salsa in February. But before the Easton Salsa Co. officially could be declared open for business, the business partners and lifelong friends started building a customer base by giving away hundreds of gallons of salsa and collecting hundreds of e-mail addresses.
Skrzenski and Sefcik now produce about 125 jars a week and have Easton Salsa fans as far away as Florida, Wisconsin and San Francisco. And they'll try to win their third top salsa prize during this weekend's Tomato Fest at the Easton Farmers' Market.
Easton Salsa Company spices up Cinco de Mayo
By Kelly Huth
MAY 5, 2010
Lehigh Valley Live
Arthur Skrzenski, co-owner and chef of Easton Salsa Company, says his product isn't like other salsas you'd find in grocery stores.
“This is fresh salsa,” Skrzenski said. “90 percent of salsas you’d see on the shelves are cooked and filled with preservatives.”
His signature blend, Art's Polish Salski, has a green tomatillo base with fresh peaches and all sorts of peppers. It's a recipe he's been cooking up for 15 years.
To find out what got Art started in the salsa business and why his products are cropping up in local stores all over town, read Kelly Huth's story: Celebrate Cinco De Mayo at home.
Over the course of Easton’s business history, there have been many different types of businesses. We’ve had flag makers, nail makers, many beer makers and now we have a salsa maker. And not just any salsa, Award Winning Salsa made by Easton Salsa Company.
Easton Salsa Company was established in March 2008 by lifelong friends Art Skrzenski and Shawn Sefcik. And as all good business ideas come about, Easton Salsa Company was started after Sefcik tried Skrzenski’s homemade tomatillo-peach salsa and commented to him that it was so good it should be sold. Initially, Skrzenski had reservations about it but that slowly began to change. He entered his salsa in the 2007 Easton Farmers’ Market Salsa Contest, competing with salsa companies from around the country; his salsa won first place. Still, Skrzenski was not convinced. But after winning first place a second time, he knew he had something. “One company entered more than one salsa,” he recalled. Skrzenski called up Sefcik and Easton Salsa Company was born.
There first product, of course, was the tomatillo-peach salsa which they call “Art’s Polish Salski” which celebrates Skrzenski’s heritage. Salski is handmade and cold packed. Being sold as a refrigerated product means Salski tastes as fresh as the day it was packed. I can attest to this, after my first taste of Salski, I was hooked. Salski’s fresh taste and well blended ingredients make it one of the best salsas I have ever tasted. I also used it on grilled chicken which was phenomenal.
Since introducing Salski, Sefcik and Skrzenski have been busy marketing, and sales have been brisk. “I got a call from someone from West Orange, NJ who tasted the Salski and asked for me to bring him more,” Sefcik said. The company is also working to get the Salski stocked on local store shelves.
What does the future hold for Easton Salsa Company? Plans are in the works to create a chocolate-habinero hot sauce, a marinara sauce made with Serrano and Chili peppers and another salsa of course, a pineapple Salski.
Currently, Salski can be purchased at Green Harvest Café, The Cosmic Cup Coffee Co., Nature’s Way Market, and Ashley’s Signature Restaurant which are all in Easton. The Salski is the official Salsa of the Easton Irregular. Try it, you won’t be disappointed.
CHEW: Easton Salsa Company
"We Won't do Hot Just for Hot's Sake"
When good friends and great fresh ingredients come together with a shared philosophy and approach, great food is born. Such is the case with Easton’s very own Easton Salsa Company. With numerous restaurants in the area being highlighted over the past few months, I decided it was appropriate to shine a little light on one of the reasons why coming to the Easton Farmer’s Market can be such great fun. There you will find week after week the Easton Salsa Company Tent. With its yellow banner and yellow shirted assistants in place with smiles, samples to convert you and a tasty product for procurement, it is a simple thing to become a “Salski” devotee. With a belief that you are the best representative of your product, Art has personally trained a special group of individuals who play a role in Easton Salsa Co. From the chop of the pepper to checking ph levels and following written instructions, each individual works under Art’s supervision to get it all just right.
“Salski” is the brainchild of Arthur Skrzenski who from an early age and with two parents who worked a great deal, was encouraged to be comfortable in a kitchen. During holidays, Art learned the basics from his mother and his Aunt who believed strongly in fresh ingredients and taking your time to prepare food by hand.
Out on his own at since before 21, Art’s passion for cooking continued as did his friends love of his talents. Visitors to his abode were fond of opening his fridge to see if there was anything new inside for their consumption. With a love of spicy foods, it was only natural that Art would eventually find himself in New Mexico where every course of the every daily meal is about the heat, the spice and the hot sauce. It was in New Mexico that Art first learned of tomatillos and began to experiment with them in his cooking. Tomatillos or husk tomato are also referred to as the green tomato in Mexico and are a staple in Mexican cooking. As a result of experimentation and the influence of region, Art’s Tomatillo Peach “Salski” was born. The tart and slightly acidic flavor coupled with the heat of cilantro makes them a perfect balance to the natural sweetness of a peach. If you’ve never tried “Salski” before, this is a great introduction.
Upon moving back to Easton, it was Art’s life long friend Shawn who planted the seed that his Tomatillo Peach “Salski” should be shared on a larger scale. As an Easton Farmer’s Market volunteer, Art heard about the annual Salsa Contest that would be held in conjunction with Tomato Fest. Art credits the creativity and energy of the Easton Farmer’s Market Manager, Megan McBride, for much of his success in the Easton community. Through her encouragement and the opportunity provided by participation in the Farmer’s Market as a vendor, Easton Salsa Co. has experienced success to a level where it is now Art’s full time profession. In the Summer of 2007, Art and Easton Salsa Co. were encouraged by McBride to enter the Market’s Annual Salsa Contest in the amateur category, which they won by an overwhelming number of votes. In June of 2008, Easton Salsa Company was registered as an LLC- limited liability corporation- and Art had begun to market his product through giving it away to friends and area businesses that were hosting events. His cleaver marketing campaign created a buzz surrounding his product and in August of 2008, Easton Salsa entered and again won the Easton Farmer’s Market Salsa Contest in the professional category by an overwhelming number of votes. Also a winner again in 2009, this year Easton Salsa Co. took a back seat to become a sponsor of the Annual Salsa Contest.
Also during this period in the company, Art’s friend and business partner Shawn inspired the impetus for their now famous Pineapple “Salski”. Sean had a desire to offer Easton Salsa’s fans a milder version of their already popular Tomatillo Peach “Salski”. By slashing the peppers in half by recipe weight, adding pineapple, and doubling the garlic and cilantro from the original recipe, Shawn and Art were able to create a version of “Salski” that had a kick but in a different way from the original. The natural sweetness of the pineapple coupled with the bite of the cilantro and flavor of the garlic makes for a taste combination that you have to try to believe. In addition to being great on it’s own, this is a favorite accompaniment on top of grilled, marinated chicken or pork and in summer salads.
Inspiration has come from a variety of places, but again, Art credits Megan McBride for nudging him in new directions. She urged Art and Easton Salsa Co. to develop a flavor for the annual Strawberry Festival, which came out in a limited run last year consisting of roughly between 80 and 90 containers. This tomato based “Salski” is mild with a delicious sweet and hot combination that is delightfully unexpected. One doesn’t normally think of strawberries as an ingredient for salsa and if you happen to be lucky enough to catch this limited run edition you won’t be disappointed. One of my personal new favorites, also inspired by McBride’s suggestion, is the Roasted Corn and Black Bean Salsa which was developed to compliment the Sweet Corn Festival held by the Farmer’s Market. This tomato based version features corn roasted slightly over an open flame, black beans that have been rinsed to bring out their purest flavor and the usual ingredients in the appropriate proportions to bring out the flavors. Not a huge fan of the bean, I was pleasantly surprised when I tried this one out and it has quickly become one of my favorite limited run “Salski’s.”
The process of creating a new flavor is an involved one. For each version of “Salski” notes are taken and every batch since 2008 is logged with who made it, time in and time out of the kitchen in accordance with PA Department of Agriculture Standards, and ph levels are measured to test the acidity of the formulation with 4.0 or below being the standard to this particular product which has a 30 day shelf life. Prior to the product going public, the branding and professional look of the product need to be considered with bar coding, nutritional values being developed, food allergies considered and a schedule and procedure being submitted to Cornell University to ensure that the manufacture of the product is one that is done in a safe and nutritionally sound manner. Other considerations such as food costs and changes to the web page also need to be looked at with a new product potentially costing up to $1,000.00 to develop before it hits the market. “There are a lot of great ideas out there but frequently it may not work in a business sense. We could come out with a gourmet salsa, but it may not be able to stand for 30 days.”
Added in 2009, Easton Salsa Co.’s Hot Sauces are also in high demand. Following his belief that local and fresh ingredients make the best product, Art has partnered with LC’s Farm to provide him with chocolate habanera peppers which will be the key ingredient for a new habanera hot sauce. Other peppers that Easton Salsa Co. will be dabbling in are the Bhut Jolika or Ghost Pepper and Naga Morich, known as the snake or serpent in Chile. “I’m going to combine the two and hurt somebody”, says Skrezenski with a gentle chuckle. This blend will be for the serious hot sauce enthusiast and not the faint of heart. Made of a mash of hot peppers and sea or kosher salt and aged for 6 months, his blends are then put through a blender to emulsify them and bottled. “After a week you can taste if it’s smokey or spicy. Each one is different.”
Interacting at the various markets weekly provides Art with great feedback and an opportunity to gauge the reaction of the public to his product. His customer base has grown with new distribution points becoming available on a constant basis. You can find Easton Salsa Co. at the Bath, Easton and Saucon Valley Farmer’s Markets as well as various locations such as Blue Sky Café in Bethlehem, Fig Tree Deli in Riegelsville, Frey’s Better Foods in Hellertown, and various Easton locations such Green Harvest Food Emporium, Natures Way, and the Cosmic Cup…soon to be in Brooklyn and various points in between.