In my last blog, I discussed adobo “the verb” as in the act of preparing food by marinating and simmering it in a vinegar/salt marinade.
Today, let’s talk about adobo the adjective/noun. This is actually two-fold again when we discuss the flavor profile of the Mexican sauce adobo compared to the Caribbean spice mix.
The Flavor of Mexican Adobo
Mexican adobo is more of a cooking sauce, condiment or marinade (all nouns) made with multiple types of dried chiles, vinegar, garlic, Mexican oregano, cumin and salt. (I made mine with guajillo, mulato and ancho chiles since those were available at my market.) It is thick like barbeque sauce but has a zing that will roll your socks up and down like you are in a cartoon.
Mexican adobo is a flavor (more of an adjective). It is a description because it adds smoke and spice to a recipe.
The involvement of both Spain and Mexico in the Philippine’s history really enlightens us on how one little word like adobo was adopted to mean so much to so many. (If you remember from Adobo Part 1, the word adobo came from the Spanish word Adobar which meant to marinate.) As the explorers descended on that not so tiny island nation, flavor profiles apparently were packed along with all the basic necessities that one might take on a long voyage. (Clothes, life preserver, shark repellant and family recipes are what I’m imagining.)
The addition of the hotter chiles was Mexico’s input on adobo but it also started to change the verbiage of adobo to more of an adjective.
Can You Adobo Adobo?
If I go by my last definition, anything with a strong vinegar/salt base marinated and simmered in said vinegar is an adobo. I kept riding my crazy train and thought if I make my own Mexican chili sauce with a vinegar base, it would count as an adobo adobo, right? (If that sentence made your head twirl, I was reconstituting hot chilies when I was writing. I may have made myself a tad bit loopy when I inhaled at the wrong moment.)
I asked one of the ladies who runs our awesome Mexican market here in LaPorte for her thoughts and was answered with the following: “Um, no, no, no.” She suggested that I make my marinade but add some tomatoes and onions. She felt that simmering in just the chilies and vinegar would be so strong that I may see a religious entity.
Taking her advice, I cooked this batch of chicken like I did on the Filipino and Spanish adobos but made it a bit saucier. The vinegar was not the dominant ingredient so I wouldn’t say it is the adobo method (verb). There was enough vinegar in the recipe to still break down the chicken so it was tender, but the adobo flavor which constituted my marinade (noun/adjective) was the dominant force in my pot.
Mexican Adobo Chicken and Sauce
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Prep Time: about 30 minutes
Inactive time: marinate for 1-6 hours (You can even do it overnight)
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, minimum
Yield Sauce: Approximately 1 cup
Yield Meal: 2 (Only because my husband liked it so much he ate almost the whole platter.)
For the adobo sauce:
2 dry guajillo chiles (stems and seeds removed)
1 dry ancho chili (stem and seeds removed)
1 dry multo chili (stem and seeds removed)
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 Tablespoon of Mexican oregano
Sprinkle of salt
1. Heat a pot with hot water, set aside.
2. Cut the top off of the chilies and discard the seeds.
3. Wake up your chiles in a warm skillet. It only takes a minute or too but a toasty chili is a happy chili.
4. Place them in the water and make sure they are completely submerged.
5. Soak for 20 minutes, remove but don’t discard the water yet.
6. While the chiles are rehydrating, grind the cumin and peppercorns. I use my cute little spice grinder.
7. Slice open the chiles lengthwise when they cool off and make sure you discard any extra seeds and any side vein that still may be intact. (Those seeds are hidden everywhere. They are a tad bitter and spicy. It won’t ruin the dish if a few sneak in.)
8. In a food processor, process together the garlic, spices, a pinch of salt, vinegar and chiles.
9. To smooth out the paste, you can either incorporate about 1/2 cup of the chili water that was rehydrating the chiles or a 1/2 cup of plain water. It was suggested to me to take an itty-bitty taste of the soaking liquid. If it is too bitter or spicy, don’t use it. I made the call to use 1/4 cup plain water with 1/4 cup of my pepper soaking water.
10. Make sure all of the chiles get chopped up so scrape the sides a few times as you process the paste.
For the chicken:
1.75 pounds chicken thighs
2 bay leaves
1 onion, chopped
1 cup of chicken broth
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
Adobo Sauce (Hindsight observation: When I make this again, I will only use enough sauce to coat the chicken and I would save the rest of the sauce for another recipe. Another option would just to have made more chicken.)
1. Using the adobo sauce, coat the chicken thighs in sauce and let marinate at the minimum an hour, maximum overnight then remove from sauce. If your chili peppers didn’t smooth out, you can press the sauce through a sieve so no one ends up getting a chunk of chili in their chicken. (That is fun to say but not fun to eat.)
2. Heat large nonreactive pot or braising pan over medium heat. Add a generous swirl of grapeseed oil.
3. Put your hood fan on.
4. Add the chicken. Sear both sides. Step back so you don’t get hit in the face with essence de chili and become delusional as you write up a blog about chicken adobo.
5. Remove chicken. It is okay if it is not completely cooked because we will continue cooking it in a moment.
6. Add a little more oil to pan if needed.
7. Sauté the onion until it just becomes soft.
8. Add the tomatoes and broth. If you would like to add more adobo sauce to the pot, this would be a good moment to do so. It all really depends on your heat level. I took a taste of mine before doing so. It just hit me at the back of my throat which is usually the level I can cook for my husband. (For me personally, I would have added a bit more because I like the heat to make my eyes go googly and warrant a big bowl of ice cream after dinner.)
9. Give it a good stir and scrape any fond (brown bits) off the bottom of the pot.
10. Add the chicken.
11. Once the sauce starts to simmer, cover and cook about 20 minutes.
12. Remove cover and test the chicken for fork tenderness. It should be tender.
13. If you would like a thicker sauce, continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes to allow it to reduce a little bit more.
14. Top with chopped cilantro.
15. Serve with a little Spanish rice or with flour tortillas. And if you decide to make extra chicken to use up your sauce, shred up the chicken and freeze it for a busy night and you can make some tacos with it.
One Last Meaning: Adobo the Spice
During the highly explosive explorative years during the 15th century, the spice trade became a very lucrative business. When piecing all the adobo puzzle together, it is no wonder that adobo was also the name of a seasoning that had a balanced mixture of salt, garlic, oregano and black pepper.
As travel to foreign lands became less distant or exotic, people would all add their own spin to the spices. There is adobo with cinnamon, turmeric, saffron, annatto and coriander to name a few. I have even seen recipes that included citrus zest.
Early in the 1900’s, adobo the spice mix became a household name thanks to food processing and packaging. It was considered a season mix for everything from vegetables to meat to fish.
It was savory and satisfying. It was the Latino version of salt and pepper because it was said that it was considered a necessary step to a flavorful meal.
It is readily found in grocery stores today but making your own mix at home is quite simple.
I made adobo potatoes to go with my Spanish Adobo. (Recipe below).
Final Thoughts on Adobo
I hope these two posts on adobo make you want to go experiment in your own kitchens. Think of the flavor profiles you enjoy most. Are you a tangy person? Go for a Filipino recipe. Are you spicy? Go for the Mexican chiles. Are you a little bit in between? The Spanish version is great because you can play with the heat by varying your paprika. It is really an endless journey.
Words and food all have meaning. We grow together by sharing what words mean to us and accepting that sometimes we have to be flexible in our definitions. By understanding some of vast history of one little word like adobo, an entire new world will open to you while bringing us all closer together.
Speaking of a new world, the patio has re-opened at The Chopping Block in Lincoln Square. This potato recipe is a great side with grilled food too! Check out the grilling classes in June and July. Plus, if you need a quick Father’s Day present, gift cards make great gifts for dads or doggy daddies.
Serves: 2 as a meal, 4 as a side
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
1 1/2 pounds of baby potatoes, cleaned and cut in half
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (added purely because I like the heart healthy benefits and the beautiful color.)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt (you can season more with salt when the potatoes are done cooking)
1/4 teaspoon of onion powder
2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper.
3. In a small mixing bowl, mix together garlic powder, oregano, turmeric, pepper, salt and onion powder. This is a version of “the mix”. You can stop here and just use it as a seasoning in toolbox of food tricks.
4. For the potatoes, whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the mix.
5. Place the cut potatoes into a large bowl, toss the potatoes with seasoned olive oil mixture. Make sure every potato is coated. It should look a little bit shiny. If it isn’t, feel free to drizzle on a little more oil.
6. Transfer the potatoes to a baking sheet. I put the cut side down. I like how it browns up and gets all crispy. If you don’t want to do that, it is okay. I won’t judge you or your potatoes.
7. Bake for 30 minutes. Take a peek to make sure they are browning not burning. I cooked mine for a total of 40 minutes because I like my potatoes well done. Some people prefer to shake up the pan while cooking. I prefer to leave it alone.
8. Sprinkle with a bit more salt and serve.
Optional: Given all the vinegar talk, I gave my final version a splash of malt vinegar. It shouldn’t surprise me that the adobo spice went great with vinegar!
If you are interested in learning more Mexican cooking techniques, don't miss these upcoming classes:
- Hands-On Family Fiesta Brunch Sunday, June 19 10am
- Hands-On La Cocina Mexicana Friday, July 1 6pm
- Hands-On Regional Street Tacos on the Patio Friday, July 8 6pm
- Virtual Shrimp Tostadas Friday, July 29 6pm CST
Did you miss the first part of this adobo series? Read Adobo: Verb, Noun or Adjective Part 1.