A richly flavored Mexican favorite
Most of us know about adobo sauce, right? It’s the stuff that canned chipotle chilies are packed in. But have you ever made homemade adobo? It’s a great sauce or marinade for meat, especially pork.
Our method for making adobo sauce is quick and easy. And in this post, we serve the sauce with its best friend, carnitas.
So get ready to pig out for Cinco de Mayo.
Recipe: Carnitas in Adobo Sauce
For this dish, we’re assuming you already have carnitas on hand. If you don’t, see our Mexican-Style Pork Carnitas recipe from last week.
You can serve carnitas in corn tortillas, of course, as we did in last week’s post. But we like them even better when they’re bathed in richly flavored adobo sauce. And served over grits or polenta.
It’s traditional to make adobo sauce from whole dried chile peppers. But we’re using chile powder instead. It’s easier, faster, and just as tasty. We’ve adapted our recipe for adobo sauce from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless.
You can use any chile powder you like for this sauce. Ancho powder is flavorful and not all that spicy (plus it has great color). We generally use a mix of ancho and New Mexico chile powder (which has more heat and depth of flavor).
Prep time for this recipe is 15 to 20 minutes. Adobo sauce will keep for several weeks if refrigerated in an airtight container (we recommend using a glass jar, not a plastic container).
For the carnitas:
- 1 batch Mexican-Style Pork Carnitas
- 6 cloves garlic (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- ½ cup dried chile powder (ancho is the mildest; we use a mix of ancho and New Mexico chile powder)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons vinegar, preferably cider vinegar (start with 2 tablespoons; see Step 3)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried cumin
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste (see Notes)
- 1¼ cups water
- ~½ teaspoon brown sugar (to taste; optional)
- cooked grits or polenta
- chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish (optional)
- sliced radish for garnish (optional)
- Prepare the carnitas, then keep them warm in their cooking pan. (You can make the carnitas ahead of time and warm them when ready to serve; see Notes.)
- Prepare the adobo sauce: Peel the garlic and mince it or slice it thinly. Place a saucepan over medium stovetop heat and add the cooking oil. When the oil is hot, add the chopped garlic and sauté it for 1 minute. Then add the chile powder, vinegar, oregano, cumin, salt, and water. Whisk to combine the ingredients. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Taste the sauce. Add more vinegar and/or salt if necessary. Add brown sugar to taste if the sauce seems too bitter (it often is). Simmer the sauce for another 2 minutes. (You can prepare the sauce ahead of time if you wish; see Notes.)
- Add the adobo sauce to the cooked carnitas. Stir to combine, then cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. If the sauce thickens too much for your taste, add a bit more water to thin it.
- When ready to serve, place a scoop or two of cooked grits or polenta on each serving plate. Ladle on the carnitas and adobo sauce. Garnish with parsley or cilantro and/or a few slices of radish. Enjoy!
- We often make both the carnitas and the adobo sauce a day or two ahead of time, then reheat right before serving. To reheat: Place the meat in a cooking pot, add a cup of water or chicken stock (stock has more flavor, of course), and bring it to a simmer. Partially cover the cooking pot, then let the liquid reduce by at least half. Add the adobo sauce and cook for another 10 minutes. Serve as directed in Step 5.
- As mentioned in the headnote, you can store adobo sauce for several weeks in the refrigerator (the vinegar acts as a preservative). We suggest storing it in glass because the sauce can stain a plastic container.
- We like to serve adobo sauce with carnitas, but you can substitute any Mexican-style meat. It also works well with chicken.
- Cider vinegar makes the most flavorful adobo sauce, but regular white vinegar works too.
- If you’re using this sauce as a marinade rather than a serving sauce, you may want to increase the amount of vinegar in the recipe.
- Chile (with an e) powder is made of nothing but ground dried chilies. Don’t use chili (with an i) powder for this recipe. Chili powder contains ground chilies plus other seasonings; it won’t have the right flavor for adobo sauce.
- For an extra flavor note, try adding ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon in Step 2.
- Or maybe add a bit of dried coriander. We haven’t tried this yet, but it sounds tasty.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the flakes are larger, so it doesn’t pack as tightly). If using regular table salt, start with about half as much as we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- What we typically call “adobo sauce” originated in Spain and Portugal, though variants of it are used in many different cuisines, particularly those of Latin America.
- Adobo roughly translates as “marinade,” “sauce,” or “seasoning.” In Spain and Portugal it typically contains garlic and vinegar, along with chile powder or paprika. It generally also includes oregano and salt, and sometimes soy sauce. The adobo sauce found in Mexico and other parts of Latin America is similar to its Old World counterpart.
- Another form of adobo sauce developed independently in the Philippines prior to Spanish colonization. Their adobo sauce generally includes vinegar, black pepper, garlic, and soy sauce.
“I could write a serenade for this marinade,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs.
“Or an Ode to Sauce,” I said. “Sort of like Ode to Joy, but with more brass.”
“It’s the best sauce for this goose,” said Mrs K R.
“But take a gander at that serving dish,” I said. “Not much left.”
“We’re just adobo locos,” said Mrs K R.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Mexican-Style Pork Carnitas
Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce
Mexican Charro Beans
Mexican Wedding Cookies
Or check out the index for more
Another terrific recipe John! I can taste it now and just adore the adobo flavors. Bravo :)
Hi Tricia, adobo sauce is SO addictive! Love the stuff. Particularly like it with carnitas -- heaven! :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a terrific treat! I don't eat pork very often, but your carnitas looks out of this world, John.
Hi Angie, we don't eat meat in this quantity most of the time either, but sometimes you just have to indulge. And carnitas are PERFECT with adobo sauce! Thanks for the comment.
We might like the home-made version, but we had a disaster when we put a whole can of adobo with chipotle peppers into a pot of chili! It was too hot to eat. We tasted a bit of the sauce first but got it wrong! Serving it over polenta seems like a novel idea (though maybe I just don't know enough about Mexican food.)
best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
LOVE! Great recipe John. Yum.
Hi Mae, it's all those chipotle peppers that made the chili too hot! Although the sauce in the cans is pretty spicy -- spicier than this. Polenta and grits are basically the same thing, and really this is just a deconstructed taco. VERY deconstructed. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pam, yum indeed -- this is wonderful stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh, yes, my fridge always has carnitas in it! ☺ Adobo flavors are the best and your recipe for the sauce is a winner. I can imagine how delicious it would be after letting the flavors of the carnitas and the adobo sauce mingle for a day or two before serving. Thanks for the recipe, John!
Hi Pam, the more time carnitas bathe in the adobo sauce, the better they are. :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, sounds wonderful. I like such things on grits or polenta, too. And I loooooove make-aheads!
Nothing compares to a homemade sauce, especially next to canned or jarred sauces. I am pretty sure I have not made adobo.....yet! Got to change that looks great with the carnitas!
Am I crazy for thinking Cinco de Mayo is the best food holiday? I'm totally craving these carnitas now!
Hi Jean, making stuff ahead is so nice, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Evelyne, you NEED to make adobo sauce! It's dynamite. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kelsie, Cindo de Mayo has become a wonderful food holiday, hasn't it? One of our favorites! Thanks for the comment.
I'd pig out for sure! You've taken carnitas to the next level! I'll have mine over polenta, too!!
So who knew that every time I make chile sauce I was about one ingredient away from adobo? Next time I'm adding vinegar! This looks great John!
I would love to pig out on your recipes for carnitas and adobo sauce. I am not much of a chile powder expert, so thanks for educating me.
I love both spicy and spiced food, so I know I would absolutely devour this!
Hi Liz, carnitas, adobo sauce, and polenta or grits is a wonderful combo of flavors! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Abbe, yup, it's the vinegar that gives it that extra oomph of flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Gerlinde, we love chile powder (and whole chilies), and have way more than we should. :-) Makes it fun when we cook, though. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Laura,you'd love this! Good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a fantastic idea! I always by the canned adobo sauce. Controlling the heat level makes for an enticing recipe.
Hi Deb, the neat thing about making your own is you can hit whatever heat level you want. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I've never made my own ADOBO sauce before but now... NOW I REALLY WANT TO!!
Hi GiGi, you'll love your own adobo sauce! I've never tried it on salmon, but it would probably be pretty good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Thank you for this. I've never made my own adobo sauce.
Hi Lea Ann, bet once you make it once, you'll make it often :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a mouthwatering dish! Perfect for Fiesta San Antonio which we have been celebrating this week!
Hi Denise, yup, this is a wonderful party dish. :-) Thanks for the comment.
An adobo sauce concentrate is avail in my Mexican market but the ingredient list is full of unpronounceable chemicals so I've never bought it. I'm excited to make my own. GREG
Hi Greg, I didn't know their was an adobo sauce concentrate available! Although if you use the chile powder method, it's really easy and fast to make from scratch. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Looks really yummy, John. And I bet it's even better the day after.
Hi Frank, it IS better the day after. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Like you suggest, I know about adobo sauce, but I've never made my own. Looks really good!
Hi Jeff, both good and really easy to make. Winner! :-) Thanks for the comment.
OMG! What an awesome dish! My mouth is already burner but it's a happy burn. :)
Hi MJ, those happy burns are the best! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I always buy the canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce- I always wondered how the adobo sauce was made- I thought it was some exotic sauce that was 'kept a secret' or something.I'm glad to know I can make it myself!
Oh my word John!!! We want to dive right in. This is some major comfort food with a nice spicy kick. Totally addicting!
Hi Fran, easy to make your own adobo sauce! If you want it as spicy as the canned stuff, just use hotter chile powder -- like chipotle. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bobbi, this really is addicting! Good stuff. :-) Thanks for the ocmment.
These saucy Carnitas look absolutely scrumptious!!
I am a total sucker of Mexican and this is exactly what I would enjoy right now!
Hi Amy, they are! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Katerina, we can't get enough Mexican chow either. So good! Thanks for the comment.
The sauce sounds so amazing! I would probably try it with mutton.
Hi Taruna, mutton would be excellent with this sauce. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Now that looks like total comfort food. I bet it's fantastic, all wrapped up in a stack of warm tortillas, too.
Hi Carolyn, it's REALLY tasty stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
These look so good and the flavours sound amazing! I could easily eat this right now.
Hi Caroline, the flavors really ARE amazing! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh yes yes yes!!! This is comfort food to me - much like a short ribs and polenta meal. LOVE.
Hi Mimi, you could use short ribs with this sauce -- that'd be awesome, I'll bet! Thanks for the comment.
This adobo sausce sounds wonderful. Great flavor.
Hi Dawn, this is SO GOOD! Incredible flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
You had me at "adobo sauce"!! This dish looks so flavorful, John!!
Hi Marcelle, adobo sauce is good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I am loving all these Mexican dishes!
Hi Emma, adobo sauce is great. We sometimes cook veggies in it! Thanks for the comment.
Just look at that delicious chunk of tasty meat.
Hi Raymund, it's good! :-) Thanks for the comment.
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