Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mexican Adobo Braised Beef

If there’s one thing I miss about living in California it’s the Mexican food. And the Indian food. And the Chinese food. And the sunny weather. Okay, that’s 4 things, but other than those, I love it here in Portland!

May not look fancy, but it's totally satisfying!

In San Francisco, our apartment was only a couple of blocks from the vibrant Mission district (where it was ALWAYS sunny, even if the rest of the city was cloudy or covered in fog). Whenever we had a hankering for Mexican, we’d just walk down the street and pick up anything our hearts desired. Like a plate of chicken mole with rice. Or a fat juicy burrito stuffed with carnitas, beans and extra hot salsa. If we weren’t in the mood for the 2-block walk, we could just go across the street to the taco truck and score $1.50 pork al pastor tacos. Those were the days!

It’s not like there isn’t Mexican food here in the Portland metro area. It’s just not anything to write home about. I’d just as soon make it myself and one ingredient I love using are the Mexican dried chilies. For years I walked past them at the grocery store, never really noticing they where even there. But now that we regularly make Mexican food, various dried chilies have become a staple in my pantry.

A simple and straightforward way to use Mexican dried chilies is to make an adobo sauce, which I like to use for stewing or braising meat. Mexican-style adobo is easy to make and will impart a complex flavor to the meat, especially if a combination of chilies are used. I always throw in chipotles, because I love the subtle smoky flavor they impart. Feel free to use your favorite type of chili and tailor the flavor after your own tastes.

Basic adobo:
Makes about 2 cups
  • 2 oz dried Mexican dried chilies (if possible use a combination, including chipotle)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • ½ can tomato paste (about 3 oz)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
  • 2 to 3 tbs cider vinegar or lime juice
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

To make the adobo, remove the seeds from the chilies if less heat is desired, and rehydrate the chilies by letting them steep in boiled water until soft. Once the chilies are soft enough, add them to a blender or food processor with the other ingredients and about ½ cup of water. I don’t like to use the chili soaking liquid because it’s sometimes too bitter. Process until you get a smooth mixture. It’s always nice to let the paste sit for a little time to allow the flavors to meld, but it’s not necessary. If you taste the mixture, it will taste raw. Don’t worry, it changes during the cooking process.

Mexican adobo braised beef
Serves 3
  • 1.5 to 2 lbs beef chuck, cut for stewing
  • half portion basic adobo (about 1 cup, freezer the remainder for another time!)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • a few springs fresh oregano
  • salt, pepper and sugar (or agave nectar) to taste
Season the beef well with salt and pepper. In a heavy bottom pot with a lid, brown the beef, in batches if necessary. Remove and set aside. Add the adobo to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the paste from sticking to the pot (lower the heat a bit if necessary). Add the beef back in and turn to coat. Add about 1 ½ cups of water to thin it out a bit (like the consistency of spaghetti sauce). Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves and oregano. Bring it up to a boil, lower the heat to barely a simmer, cover and cook until the beef is tender. This is probably a good time to taste it and add some salt and sugar, if desired. It may still taste a bit weak, but the flavor will enhance once it’s cooked with the beef. Alternatively, you could braise in the oven at 300° until tender.

Depending on my mood, I will shred the beef or leave it in chunks to serve. Either way, I like fish the beef out of the braising liquid and reduce the liquid to concentrate the flavors a bit and adjust the seasonings. I really recommend this step. It doesn’t take more than 15 extra minutes. Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll fry the beef in my cast-iron skillet to get bits of crispiness (a la carnitas) before returning it to the sauce. Serve with rice, tortillas, or tortilla chips, a healthy serving of beans and whatever other accompaniments you’d like.

If you like this dish, you may also like chicken mole, made with a combination of Mexican dried chilies and chocolate.

This is my submission to Regional Recipes, the blogging event that spotlights a regional/national cuisine. We've gone to Mexico this time. There's still time to get in on the action! Send your submissions to Wandering Chopsticks at wanderingchopsticks(at)gmail(dot)com by March 15th.


Wandering Chopsticks said...

I've got about half a dozen recipes so far. Looks like Mexican food is quite popular. There's a lot of Mexican immigrants in Oregon though, I wonder where they're getting their food? Just gotta follow the trail...

Lars said...


Dee said...

WC, they're supposedly in Hillboro, but we ate at an "authentic" Mexican restaurant in Hillboro (everyone was speaking Spanish except us) and it wasn't very good. The flavors were okay, but I ordered pork al pastor tacos and it wasn't nearly as spicy and flavorful as I'm used to, and the pork was tough! My coworker had chicken mole, and the sauce literally tasted raw, like they just blended all the fresh ingredients together without cooking it.

I asked one of the kids at my high school for a good Mexican food recommendation and he says they never go out. His mom cooks. That's not help to me!

Lars, get yourself some dried chilies! This is so easy to make. Are there any Mexican restaurants in Aalborg? There was only 1 in Aarhus, although that's probably changed.

Paula said...

My hubby and I are huge fans of authentic Mexican food. I'd love some of your braised beef! I'd also like a serving or two of the rice, beans, and avocado I see on your plate as well. YUM!

Jason said...

Oh this does look good! I also wish we could get better Mexican food in this town!

Dee said...

Jason, Por Que No do a pretty good carnitas. They have a location in N Portland on Mississippi and one in SE on Hawthorne. The rest of the stuff is just fair. They do have a good pomogranite margarita so that kind of makes up for the other shortcomings :-)

Paula, I'm starting to go beyond the tacos and enchiladas. Not that there's anything wrong with those. I just want to expand our horizons. I enjoy the heartiness of the food and it's such an easy sell in our house. There's never any complaining when we have Mexican.

Anonymous said...

First time commenter and viewer of your blog, I just posted a comment on Taste Buddies and happened to see your comment as well.

My brother lives in LA and whenever I travel to visit him I make sure I have a few good Mexican meals. I am from Jersey, far easy coast, so it is hard to find a good Mexican meal here as well.

Is that avocado in the picture?


Langdon Cook said...

I hear ya, Darlene. Used to frequent the Mission all the time when I lived in the Haight years ago. Remember La Cumbre? Seattle doesn't quite cut it, but the taco trucks are a step in the right direction. Anyway, I'll give this adobo a shot, looks yummy!

Dee said...

Mia, welcome! One of my best friends moved to NY from SF and he lamented not having access to proper Mexican fare. However, he gets a lot of other good stuff we miss out on here on the West side. And yes, that's avocado. I broke down and bought one, even though they are so pricey here up north. I remember them being a lot cheaper in California.

LC, La Cumbre doesn't ring a bell, but I'm better with locations than names. The one place I always think of is more restaurant like than taqueria. The service was so bad. The owner would just sit there and watch a portable TV while the one and only waiter would run around like a headless chicken. And if you even asked the owner for your bill or more water, she'd just give you a look like you were the devil and say the waiter would bring it by, which he would, but it would take half an hour! Oh, but the chorizo burritos were TO DIE FOR!

Anonymous said...

Mexican adobo is great tasting!

Jason said...

Thanks for the referral Darlene! I have heard good things about Por Que No, but haven't ventured over there yet. I will have to give it a try, even if it's just for the margarita!

pam said...

I have got to get me some good dried chilies. I love your plating, the beans look fabulous and the avocado is perfect!

Manggy said...

Oh, once again it's my last day in San Francisco and you just remind me there's so much more I want to see and taste! I guess that's what next time (next year?) is for :) Then again, the Mexican I had this trip (and I hope you don't get the vapors): La Corneta and, er, Chevy's, were probably enough for me. As well as the authentic Mexican I had at Tarasco in El Segundo last year. The next stop would be home, because the adobo looks easy enough to make anyway. Thanks!

Lars said...

no mexican restaurants in aalborg, just a burrito take away which sucks. i've often thought about starting one here, should be a sure succes. i'm actually not sure i'll be able to get the dried chilies here either, maybe in one of the 'exotic'-markets if i'm lucky... but i've really been wanting to try the dried maxican chilies since i saw a tv show a few monts ago, where to chefs where travelling mexico... else i'll just have to go to portland to get some proper home made mexican :-)

eatingclubvancouver_js said...

I miss Mexican food too, so cheap and so flavourful at the same time, in LA. Here, we don't really get that great a selection. Anyways, sorry to have missed this round of Regional Recipes too. We desperately tried to do something before we left on the 7th and desperately tried to do something after we came back on the 17th. But alas, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. We might have been able to get our dish in time before the round-up, but were too jet-lagged, becoming very sleepy at odd hours of the day.

Dee said...

js, please don't worry! There will be times when life happens. Besides, you guys have a good excuse :-)

Castillo @ SE 79th & Burnside said...

I made your carne adobada recipe tonight and it was phenomenal! I used chipotles and guajillos with all-natural, grass-fed chuck. I had a lot of fun making it! I am cooking it again next week, adding New Mexicos and orange peel! Thank you for a wonderful recipe!

Dee said...

castillo, thanks for the feedback! I'm glad you liked it. Orange peel sounds like an excellent addition--I'm going to try that next time!

Lars said...

is it too late to order som dried mexican chilies like fx chipotle to be dispatched by the danish delegation... i've been looking in aalborg but i'm not able to find any decent dried chilies and i sooo want to try cooking with them...

Gourmet Mama said...

I love anything Mexican. We're actually going to have tacos tomorrow for Father's Day. Hopefully, that won't be the only thing on the menu. Might actually end up in our stomachs before they hit the table. I do love the idea of Mexican Adobo braised beef. The only braised beef I've had is is on Chinese noodles.