Adobo sauce has been around the block. It’s become an all-purpose term for seasoning or spice, but to find an authentic version your best bet is to head back in time a few hundred years.
Grinding your own chili peppers will help complete that journey, and in doing so you might just find a flavor combo that will make you question the endless aisles of bottled sauces that we rely on these days.
Easy Adobo Sauce Recipe
The term adobo is most likely a derivative of the Spanish word for marinate, adobar, but its uses extend far beyond a simple marinade.
This recipe will make a concentrated, flavor-bomb paste that will work wonders when slathered on meats, but you’ll also be able to liquefy it to use as a stewing sauce. It’s meant to be versatile so you can consider the ingredient list a starting point only; don’t sweat the small stuff if you don’t have the exact ingredients on hand.
I’m using a combo of Ancho and Guajillo dried chilis. As with our Homemade Enchilada Sauce, there is some leeway on the exact chili pepper combo, but the Anchos are non-negotiable — they provide such a rich flavor to the adobo sauce that I almost always include them.
So in the above pic that’s 10 Ancho chiles and 5 Guajillos.
Wipe off any dusty crevasses with a damp towel, then de-stem and de-seed them. I find it easiest to cut off the stem and make a single cut lengthwise, then you can peel them open and pull out the seeds and veins with your hands. (Don’t worry about getting rid of every last seed.)
It’s worth giving these a burst of heat to bring them back to life. You can flash them on a hot, dry skillet for 15-30 seconds or just plop them in a 400F oven for 1-2 minutes — but just a brief kiss from the heat as they will char quite readily and that will leave you with some unwanted flavors.
Add the chili pieces to a bowl and cover them with the hottest tap water you’ve got.
Let the chilis reconstitute for 20-30 minutes; if they float to the top you can use a plate or small bowl to keep them submerged.
Meanwhile, you can gather the other ingredients…
Sticking with the historical theme I’m using seeds instead of powdered spices but this is definitely optional; you can use what you have on hand and you’ll still be happy with the result.
So in the above pic we’re using:
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
2 whole cloves (optional)
After a flash of heat in a hot, dry skillet (15-30 seconds), these get a quick grind in the molcajete.
Also note that measurements for whole versus powdered spices are usually close enough to not sweat the difference. Typically a ground version of a whole spice will expand a bit, so a half teaspoon of whole black peppercorns will turn into a heaping half teaspoon of ground black pepper.
Drain the reconstituted chilis and add them to a blender.
It’s also worth taking a taste of the chilis’ soaking liquid at this point. It usually tastes a little bitter to me so I tend to not use it. If it tastes earthy to you or you just like the flavor, then feel free to keep it on hand because you’ll need a bit of extra liquid to get the chilis to blend together.
In addition to the chilis we’ll add:
8-10 garlic cloves
the spice mixture
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup stock (or water, or soaking liquid)
splash of water
Note that we are only using 1/2 teaspoon of salt so I consider this adobo paste only partially seasoned. Since you can use it in such a wide variety of dishes I think it’s best to reserve some space for final seasoning.
Give it a good whirl. Ideally you want a paste-like substance, so we’re only adding enough liquid to barely get there. If it’s not combining you can add another splash of water (or some of the soaking liquid).
You’ll end up with a rich, concentrated paste that already tastes great, and you haven’t even started dinner yet! It’s got rich, vibrant flavor from the chilis, some tang from the vinegar, and a burst of life-affirming heat.
You should have about 2 cups worth of adobo; this should be plenty for multiple meals. It’ll keep in the fridge for at least a week and it should freeze quite well.
Given its concentrated nature, it would probably be a good candidate to freeze in ice cube trays so that you have the option of adding just a bit at a time.
I’ll soon put up some more specific recipes on how you can use this adobo sauce (update: see these Pork Chops in Adobo Sauce), but in the meantime don’t forget that its original use was to flavor meats, with a special nod to chicken and pork.
Slather this adobo delight on some bone-in pork chops, cook them over some fire, and your journey back a few hundred years will be complete (and tasty).
Easy Adobo Sauce
- 10 Ancho dried chilis
- 5 New Mexican or Guajillo dried chilis
- 8 peeled garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- pinch of clove (optional)
- freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup vinegar (I used white vinegar)
- 1/4 cup stock (or water, or soaking liquid)
- splash of water
- pinch of sugar (optional)
- Wipe off any dusty crevasses on the chilis using a damp towel. De-stem and de-seed the chilis, but don't worry about getting rid of every last seed.
- I put the chilis in a 400F oven for 1-2 minutes to awaken some dormant flavors; you could also flash them on a hot, dry skillet for 15-30 seconds in place of the oven.
- Add the chilis to a bowl and cover them with hot tap water. Let them reconstitute for 20-30 minutes. If they float to the surface you can use a small plate or bowl to keep them submerged.
- Drain the chilis and add them to a blender, along with the remaining ingredients listed above.
- Combine well; ideally you want a thick, paste-like substance so we are adding just enough liquid to get there. If it won't combine you can add another splash of water.
- Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge. It should also freeze quite well.
Here’s a look at the Pork Chops made with this Adobo Sauce:
Our latest recipe is a delicious batch of Rajas!