Thursday, 4 August 2011

Guajillo Adobo

I have been dipping into Roberto Santibanez's book Truly Mexican over the past while. The layout of the book is very logical and while he doesn't cover the same breath of the cuisine as either Diana Kennedy or Rick Bayless, when it comes to understanding the sauces that for the basis for much of Mexican cooking he provides a very clear and helpful foundation.

Reading the book one has that "aha" moment that one had when first reading about the French "mother sauces", there is a sense of a lot of the confusion being stripped away and the sauces being divided into clear and obvious families and the reader is then empowered to improvise with confidence.

The sauces are split into:
  • Salsas - the tomato and tomatillo cooked and uncooked sauces and garnishes which I have covered quite a bit already. 
  • Guacamoles - there are a couple of very interesting ones which I will return to sometime later, there is a seafood guacamole and one with chicharron which definitely look worth a try.
  • Adobos - simple purees of different chiles. 
  • Moles and Pipanes  - the more complicated nut thickened sauces,
I have covered a lot of salsas already and also a couple of guacamoles but I have been anxious to move on to cover more substantial meat dishes and to tackle some of the adobos and pastes and to master some mole recipes. There are a couple of reasons I haven't thus far. Living alone means that I don't generally buy large cuts of meat, and also I try to restrict myself to chicken and fish as much as possible, beef and pork would generally be a one time a week treat for me, so preparing dishes based on larger cuts demands more forward planning than I am used to. But I'll struggle on, for science!


An adobo, at it's simplest, is a paste made from toasted then soaked dried chiles, blended with a small amount of water, garlic, a splash of vinegar, salt, possibly some sugar and whatever spices seem appropriate.

There is nothing in the technique that we have not seen already in the cooked salsas. The dried chiles are toasted on a compal until fragrant but not burnt, they are soaked in water until soft, and the seeded and de-veined flesh of the chile is blended with the other ingredients.

There is a certain amount of disagreement as to whether the soaking liquid should be used in the paste. Santibanez thinks not, that using clean water gives better taste. I have tried both ways, and while I am not sure I can tell the difference, I suspect on principle he is right and you should discard the soaking liquid.

The paste is blended until absolutely smooth, a couple of minutes at least, and should also be passed through a sieve after blending to ensure the paste is a silky as possible without any remaining skins or stray seeds.

The adobo can then be used as a marinade or else mixed with an equal amount of water or stock it can be used as a braising liquid.

Guajillo Adobo

The guajillo chile is a long dried chile, similar in shape to a passila but with a slightly redder colour. While the dried chiles are a reddish brown the adobo paste made from them is a beautiful red colour.

The adobo is quite delicate and can be used as a marinade for fish without overpowering it.

To make the paste toast about 10 or 12 guajillo chiles on a comal, as they toast their colour lightens slightly, but as always you must be careful not to scorch them. I generally just drop the whole chile on the comal and turn it frequently and use a spatula to press down on it, however you can also cut the chile and de-vein it before toasting it. (In fact this is probably a much cleaner and easier method, and it is nothing but force of habit the makes me take the other approach). Once the chiles are toasted soak them in water for 20 minutes or so until soft.The blend them along with about 3/4 cup of water (more if necessary), a couple of cloves of garlic, a splash of cider vinegar, a scant teaspoon of salt and sugar and a pinch of cumin.

You are aiming for a smooth paste thicker than pouring consistency so the abobo will have to be blended for much longer than a salsa would and should be passed through a sieve to ensure it is perfectly smooth.

It can then be spread on meat or fish as a marinade prior to frying or grilling, or it can be added to browned chicken or pork along with an equal quantity of water or stock to create a stewing liquid. Versatile stuff!

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