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