Tuesday, March 20, 2012

DIY Adobo Sauce

Tacos al Pastor with Adobo Sauce
Have you ever bought chipotles in a can and wondered, “What is that addictive sauce is the chilies are swimming in?”  The answer: adobo.

Got at thing for tacos al pastor?  Those delicious bits of pork on corn tortillas are the star of Mexico City street food.  What makes these pork tacos a deep shade of crimson and so darned tasty?  That’s right, adobo. 

Adobo is a rich reduction of blackened guajillo chilies, garlic, and spices, including a substantial amount of cinnamon.  As a marinade, the chili puree is mixed with vinegar or citrus juice imparting layer upon layer of flavor to whatever meat it touches. 

With a hankering for tacos eating away at my gut last weekend, I thought rather than try and salvage the sauce from several cans of chipotles, I’d try my hand at homemade adobo.  Adapting from a recipe in Richard Sandoval’s book Modern Mexican Flavors, I was able create a good imitation of the Mexican marinade I’ve loved for years.

This is not a lazy person’s sauce.  The process takes a measure of time, a good deal of attention, and a hefty helping of patience.  But give yourself the space to assemble a large batch of adobo and you will reap the rewards for weeks- the sauce keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge. 

I smothered a 3 pound pork loin in a thick coating of the finished sauce and let it sit for a good 45 minutes before roasting.  After the roast was cooked, I sliced, diced, and reheated the meat in a bit of the reserved sauce before filling my tacos.  Topped with diced onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime I was one satisfied taco eater.

Having mastered the basic pork in adobo taco, I might next try the sauce as a marinade for grilled chicken or stir a tablespoon in with ground turkey for a kicked up burger.  With this recipe for adobo under my belt I guess I can quit scraping the cans of chipotles just to get at the sauce. 

Basic Adobo Sauce
Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 2 cups

3 T. vegetable oil
½ medium white onion
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp. black peppercorns
6 large cinnamon sticks
½ tsp. cumin seeds
4 cloves
10 dried guajillo chilies
4 cups water
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 T. honey
½ tsp. Kosher salt

Heat vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat.  Roughly chop the onion and peel the garlic.  Break the cinnamon sticks in half.  Add onion, garlic, peppercorns, cinnamon, cumin seeds and cloves to the hot pan.  Cook for about 5 minutes, tossing the ingredients until the onion and garlic blister slightly but don’t burn.  Meanwhile, remove the stems, seeds and membranes from the chilies.  Cut each into chili in 2-3 pieces.  Add chilies to the pan and cook for a few minutes more until the chilies are toasted.  Add the water and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.  Add a bit of the chili mixture at a time to a blender.  Pulse with each addition until mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender frequently.  If it is too thick, add a bit more water but not too much, mixture should be quite thick.  Transfer the blended chilies to a medium mesh strainer.  Use a spoon or spatula to push the mixture through the strainer.  Scrape the smooth puree off the bottom of the strainer into a medium bowl.  To the chili puree whisk in orange juice, vinegar, honey and salt.  This can be stored for several weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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