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.
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
- 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
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.