Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Recipe: "salsa adobada"

This simple red sauce is another one of my 'store cupboard' standbys and perfect for the busy cook that doesn't have time to go shopping for special ingredients. Straight out of Mexican Cookery by Lourdes Nichols, I use it for filling tamales and as an enchilada sauce. It's also great served with BBQ ribs or as a base for a chilli con carne (simply add ground beef and beans). Much better than anything you can buy in a bottle and you'll feel all the more noble for making it.

Salsa Adobada (makes 1/2 pint, serves 4)
1 clove garlic
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 inch cinnamon stick (2 tsp cinnamon)
3 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp oil
3/4 pint chicken stock
1/2 tbsp dark chocolate grated (cocoa powder is also fine)
3 tbsp chilli powder (I use a mix of ancho and hot chilli)
Pinch of sugar

Put the garlic, cinnamon and onion into a blender or mini chopper and puree until you have a smooth paste. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the paste for 5 mins, or until it begins to look dry. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until the sauce reduces by a third (about 20 mins).


  1. Mexican salsas and sauces are so expensive in the U.K, this is a good recipe. One I will keep in mind the next time I make a Mexican inspired meal. Thanks!

  2. This really is a great sauce...no one will believe you that it's so easy! Enjoy...

  3. If you would forgive a linguistic quibble, the sauce is called "adobo" (originally the liquid used for tanning leather); the food prepared with the sauce takes the past participle (carne adobada, pollo adobado).

    In the nineteenth century, adobos were sold in bulk as pastes made of ground spices, onion, and garlic (much like the prepared Thai sauces) which were diluted with vinegar by the cook. You can still find such pastes today but it's more common to find them in ready-to-pour Tetrabriks.

    Adobos show up in many dishes, such as birria, barbacoa, conejo en adobo, and tacos al pastor. One ingredient all adobos have in common is vinegar. The acidity is important.

    Meaning no disrespect to your interesting sauce nor to Mrs Nichols, an adobo will rarely have tomato in it and chocolate is unheard of. That makes me curious to find out which regional cuisine it comes from.

    By the way, if you can find chiles pasilla in your neck of the woods, by all means include them in the mix. Their complex flavor complements the anchos well.

    You'll find a number of culinary entries in our blog, if you're inclined to visit.

  4. Hi Real Tijuana
    Thanks for your informative post. As the recipe comes straight from Lourdes Nichols, I can't comment on the origin or authenticity - you've raised some interesting points. I do love the flavour of Pasilla but it's not so easy to come by in London! I'll definitely be keeping an eye on your blog...

  5. We like to say that, while France might have made a philosophy of anarchy, only Mexico was able to turn anarchy into an art-form. As soon as I told you that chocolate is unheard of in adobos, I knew I had to prove myself wrong. It took a while but, finally, I am happy to offer something from the state of Tlaxcala.

    Carne de puerco en adobo (Pork in adobo)

    1 lb. lean, boneless pork
    4 large carrots
    1 large potato
    2 ancho chiles
    1 pasilla chile
    1 onion
    1 clove garlic
    4 black peppercorns
    2 cloves
    1 stick cinnamon
    1/2 small bar bitter chocolate
    1 cup vinegar

    Singe the chiles, remove the veins and soak for half an hour in hot water. Blend with the garlic, spices, onion, vinegar, and chocolate. Peel the potato and carrot and cut into strips.

    Cut the meat into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper and fry. Once it is cooked, add the adobo, carrots, and potato. If it seems on the dry side, add a little water and boil for a few minutes.

    This recipe comes from Adela Fernández, La tradicional cocina mexicana y sus mejores recetas. This work was produced in bilingual editions during the 1980s (the present one is in Spanish only); it might still be available bilingually through gandhi.com.mx. Its English is somewhat stilted but certainly no worse than Mrs Nichols's Spanish. Its front matter gives a good background in history, utensils, and ingredients.

    (Please understand that, when we read "salsa adobada", our hackles go up just as yours would if we were to offer you a recipe for "bubbles and squeaky".)

    Incidentally, the traditional vinegar was made from pineapple. Hard to come by these days. Cider vinegar or the juice of Seville oranges make better substitutes than does white vinegar. A stick of cinnamon is about ten centimeters long, no more than a tablespoon ground. Half a small bar of bitter chocolate is difficult to guess, perhaps half an ounce; Fernández was writing in the 1970s and commercial chocolate has changed radically since that time.