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 tablespoon 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
2-3 chipotles in adobo (optional)
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 this Easy Shredded Pork in Adobo Sauce or 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
- 2-3 chipotles in adobo (optional)
- 8 peeled garlic cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon 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. Update: I've been adding 2-3 chipotles in adobo lately for some heat, but you can consider this optional.
- 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!
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I made this using medium Hatch chilis and dried Chipotles (I didn’t have any Anchos on hand) and wow - fantastic! Very deep flavor and spicy, as I like my food. I ended up freezing heaping spoonfuls of this using an ice cude tray and toss a frozen cube into all sorts of dishes - soups, chili, even Italian sauces. Superb!
I went to our local Mexican food market a week or so ago while out stocking up and picked up some nice, fresh (i.e., soft and pliable) Anchos and will make another batch today using real Anchos and Hatch chilis (I get them online now after visiting Hatch, NM, a few years back. I have mild, medium and hot varieties). I can’t wait!
P.S.: This website is *wonderful!* I’ve made this recipe, your tomatilla salsa, and since the pandemic hit I’ve been using your homemade corn tortilla recipe. All of the recipes work quite well; I even get my tortillas to puff up! (I use my 12” de Buyer carbon steel pan in lieu of a Comal). Thank you so much!
Ahh great to know, thanks much for your feedback Chris and thanks for mentioning your adjustments! So glad you are finding some keepers on my site. Cheers.
can i use Ancho Chili powder as its the only anch chilli available here, if yes what will be the ratio and how?
Hey Yazz!! Yeah you could use Ancho powder but it will always taste a little better when using the dried chiles.
A good ratio to keep in mind is 1 tablespoon Ancho powder = 1 Ancho dried chile. So for this recipe I would probably start with 1/2 cup Ancho powder (8 tablespoons) and add more from there if necessary.
I hope that helps a bit! Cheers.
I am in Mexico right now (near Tijuana) and I cannot find Mexican oregano anywhere. I have the impression that it is distinctly different from the oregano found on grocery store shelves here. I even asked two chefs about it and they had not heard of it.
Hmmm I think there's a chance that might be it on the shelves! It's probably worth buying a small bag and giving it a taste -- Mexican oregano won't have the minty undertones of traditional oregano and for some it might also taste a bit citrusy.
Hello, can I use this recipe to make chipotles in adobo sauce, I noticed that you also have another recipe for that but it does not include the ancho chillies in the ingredients which you say is essential for great adobo? Or am I missing something? Please help!
Hey Chris! Yeah I could see where that gets a little confusing, but this Easy Adobo Sauce is more for cooking and seasoning -- it will have a more concentrated flavor than the resting sauce that I use in the Homemade Chipotles in Adobo recipe.
I would probably want to experiment with it further before giving a thumbs up to use it for Homemade Chipotles as it might be too potent and overwhelm the Moritas.
Okay hope that helps a bit! Cheers.
How do you think this would work if added to pickles? I saw chipotle pickles and am trying to figure out how to make it myself. Any ideas?
Hi Emma! Hmmm I think I would be more likely to use some adobo sauce or ground chipotles, but I have to admit I've never made chipotle pickles before, curious now though 🙂 Cheers.
More info on chipotles
I just made this without onion or garlic. This is amazing! Not only that, I will use this for my enchilada sauce base. Thank you so much for this recipe! This will be my no garlic and no onion go to for all my mexican dishes.
Hey thanks much for your note Michele! I consistently get emails about dishes with no onion/garlic and it's good to know this recipe worked out for you without those ingredients. Cheers.
Just finished making this and love the taste. What ratio of this adobo sauce to achiote paste would you recommend for a marinade to make tacos al pastor? I will be using about 5-lbs of pork loin, and will be using pineapple juice to thin it out as well.
Hey Joe! Tough question as it depends a lot on how concentrated the achiote paste is. I would start by adding the liquid to the adobo sauce to get the consistency that you want, and then add the achiote paste incrementally and do plenty of taste testing. Hope that helps a bit. Cheers.
I followed your directions (much appreciated) and made what I call Southwestern lasagna. Instead of pasta, I used corn tortillas with queso fresca and smashed and seasoned firm tofu (in place of ricotta cheese). I haven’t made a casserole in a long time because my wife doesn’t like casseroles much...she went back for seconds! I took the leftover paste and froze it in a bag...squeezed it out thin in the bag so I can easily break chunks off later. Thanks again!
Ha awesome thanks for your note Randell, sounds yummy and I'm glad it was a keeper for you! Yeah the adobo sauce should keep well for future use. Cheers.
Recipe sounds amazing! That seems like a lot of vinegar though, how sour is this? I want to use it as both the marinade and the braising liquid for pulled pork to fill tamales. Will this be too sour for this purpose? (Since, a good amount of the paste will be in the tamale) Should I sub some vinegar for broth?
Hey Nicholas! Yeah it's a concentrated batch so if using it for braising or longer cook times you can sub out some of the vinegar for broth (and maybe even add some extra broth to liquefy it more). And you can always add a splash of vinegar at the end if you want a bit more tang. Cheers.
Thank you very much for sharing this recipe! I made my first small batch with arbol instead of guajillos and wow that was really some life-affirming heat! Today I made a full batch with all the original ingredients plus some arbol. It was not easy getting all the stuff in germany but this way I learned that we have a tortilleria here in Berlin - cintli. Thank you for introducing me to such an amazing new way of enjoying food!
Ha awesome Kai, so good to know there's a tortilleria in Berlin! I hope you find some favorite recipes on the site. Cheers.