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Mexican adobo sauce is an all-purpose marinade made from dried chiles, spices, and vinegar. It’s full of rich, spicy, tangy, and smoky flavors. Time to elevate all of your favorite dishes by adding this staple sauce to your arsenal!
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🌶️ What is adobo sauce?
If you’re looking for a true jack-of-all-trades marinade, adobo sauce should be at the top of your list. From seasoning jackfruit and tofu to chickpeas and beans, you’ll be wondering how it took you so long to make a homemade version.
Adobo is a cooking method of marinating or stewing meat or fish in a brine mixture of vinegar, spices, and sometimes soy sauce.
The word adobo actually comes from the Spanish verb “adobar,” which means “to marinate.”
🇲🇽 What is Mexican adobo sauce?
In Mexico, adobo is a sauce made from a mixture of chiles, spices, and vinegar. It’s a spicy, smoky, and tangy masterpiece!
The most popular adobo preparation you’re probably familiar with is chipotle peppers in adobo. But as we mentioned, it’s also very common to serve as a marinade on different meats.
With so many variations of adobo that span across the globe, there isn’t really one “right” way of making it. The only thing that should be included is vinegar.
In Mexico, you may see different types of chiles used, other spices, no tomato, lots of tomatoes — you get the picture.
At its core, adobo is a delicious sauce you can smother on anything!
The first written reference to adobo was made by a Spaniard in 1613 — Pedro de San Buenaventura. However, the concept of adobo has long been used in other regions of the world too, including the Philippines and Portugal.
Filipinos have been utilizing adobo as a means of preserving food for centuries. In fact, many Filipinos consider adobo to be their national dish.
During the colonial era, the Spanish discovered indigenous communities in the Philippines were practicing a similar method of food preservation with vinegar and spices.
Wherever it was first invented, one thing is for sure… There is a big difference between Filipino and Mexican adobo, but both serve a purpose within each culture and cuisine.
Besides, they both taste great!
🌱 Is adobo sauce vegan?
Mexican adobo sauce is 100% vegan and vegetarian-friendly. It also happens to be naturally gluten-free for those with intolerances.
Even though adobo sauce is a popular marinade for meat, it can be used on absolutely anything from rice, beans, and chickpeas to jackfruit, TVP, tofu, and tempeh.
🛒 Ingredients & substitutions
Dried chiles — In this adobo sauce, we use a mixture of guajillo, pasilla, and ancho chiles. We personally think this combination tastes the best, but you can use others like cascabel, New Mexico, or even paprika (as is a common Portuguese and Spanish practice).
Onion & garlic — Use fresh onion and garlic for the best flavor. Sauté them both to open up the flavors and give the sauce a rustic taste.
Cumin — For an earthy, nutty, and hearty element. We are huge fans of cumin!
Mexican oregano — To add a hint of lemon, citrus, and licorice. Just don’t mistake Mexican oregano for Mediterranean oregano.
Vinegar — The number one necessity in adobo is vinegar. You can use white, apple cider, coconut, or cane vinegar — all will work.
Salt & pepper — To bring out the other flavors of this sauce.
Olive oil — To sauté the onion and garlic. You can also water-fry them for an oil-free version.
For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.
Step 1 — Stem and seed the chiles, and toast them for a few seconds in a skillet (this will help release their flavors). Then, rehydrate them in a pot or bowl of hot water.
Step 2 — In the meantime, sauté the onions, garlic, and spices for a few minutes. Then, transfer the mixture to a blender with vinegar, water, and rehydrated chiles. Blend on high until the mixture is nice and smooth.
Note: If you want more of a paste, only use half the water. If you’d prefer your adobo to be saucier, use the full amount of water or extra vinegar.
Step 3 — Transfer the blended adobo to a jar or container for storage, or use it immediately as a marinade for foods like tofu, tempeh, or jackfruit. Happy eating!
If you have questions about how to make Mexican adobo sauce, check out our FAQs or leave a comment down below!
🫔 How to use adobo sauce
Adobo sauce serves as the base for many classic Mexican dishes like the following:
For less traditional options, we love adding adobo sauce to chickpeas, tofu, jackfruit, or tempeh to serve in tacos or Buddha bowls.
Once you taste this Mexican adobo sauce, you’ll want to have it on hand at all times! Good thing we have easy-to-follow storage instructions to make your life easier.
Fridge — Keep your adobo sauce in airtight glass containers to best preserve the taste and eliminate other flavors seeping into it. If stored correctly, adobo will last about 7-10 days in the fridge.
Freezer — Adobo sauce freezes extremely well as long as it’s stored in freezer-safe bags or containers. Freezing it in ice cube trays is a handy way of portioning your adobo. You can thaw 1-2 cubes at a time, or however much you need! Whether it’s in a container, bag, or ice cube tray, it should last at least 6 months in the freezer.
Make it sweet — If you feel like your adobo sauce is a little on the spicy or tangy side, add 1 teaspoon of agave or cane sugar at a time until you reach your preferred sweetness.
Use different herbs — Some other typical herbs and spices include anise, allspice, bay leaves, and cinnamon. Include your favorites!
Roast the vegetables — For a smokier, more charred flavor, try roasting the vegetables instead.
🧑🍳 Top tips
Don’t boil the peppers — Rehydrate the dried chiles in just-boiled water. This will help prevent flavor seepage into the water.
No dried peppers, no problem — If you don’t have dried chiles, replace them with paprika or powdered chiles.
Use fresh ingredients — For the best-tasting adobo sauce, ensure your dried chiles, herbs, and spices are as fresh as possible.
Adjust the consistency — If you prefer a thinner adobo sauce, add more water. If you prefer it thinner, use less liquid.
Double the batch — You’ll definitely wish you made more once you taste your first bite. We always double the recipe!
Mexican adobo sauce is primarily made from chiles, herbs, spices, and vinegar.
Mexican adobo sauce usually has an earthy flavor with hints of smoke, a little tang, and slight spice.
There is no soy sauce in this Mexican adobo, so it’s gluten-free. If you’re trying other adobo recipes (like Filippino versions), you’ll need to confirm there is no gluten.
🍴 Similar recipes
If you enjoyed this adobo sauce recipe, check out some more versatile sauces like these:
- Salsa ranchera: A smoky and chunky Mexican red salsa.
- Mole poblano: One of the most popular and unique Mexican sauces.
- Green enchilada sauce: A tangy, tomatillo-based salsa that brings the heat.
- Chamoy: A sweet, tangy, spicy, and salty sauce that pairs with fruit, drinks, and more!
Easy Mexican Adobo Sauce
- Kitchen shears
- Bowl or pot
- 3 ancho chiles ($0.15)
- 4 guajillo chiles ($0.16)
- 2 pasilla chiles ($0.08)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil ($0.11)
- ¼ medium white onion, roughly chopped ($0.06)
- 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped ($0.16)
- ½ teaspoon cumin ($0.01)
- ½ teaspoon Mexican oregano ($0.01)
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns ($0.01)
- ½ teaspoon salt, then to taste ($0.01)
- ½ cup vinegar, white or apple cider ($0.20)
- ¼-½ cup water ($0.01)
- First, stem and seed the dried chiles. Toast them for 30 seconds or so in a skillet over medium (this will help release their flavors). Add them to a pot or bowl of just-boiled water, cover, and let rehydrate for 15 minutes.
- In the meantime, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium. Sauté the onions for 3-4 minutes until translucent. Add in the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Lastly, mix in the spices to open the flavors up.
- Transfer the onion mixture to a blender or food processor with vinegar, ¼ cup water, and rehydrated chiles. Blend on high until the mixture is smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides a few times.
- If you need the final ¼ cup of water, add it in until you achieve a smooth, sauce-like consistency. Transfer to a jar or container for storage. Happy eating!
- Don’t boil the peppers — Rehydrate the dried chiles in just-boiled water. This will help prevent flavor seepage into the water.
- No dried peppers, no problem — If you don’t have dried chiles, replace them with paprika or powdered chiles.
- Use fresh ingredients — For the best-tasting adobo sauce, ensure your dried chiles, herbs, and spices are as fresh as possible.
- Adjust the consistency — If you prefer a thinner adobo sauce, add more water. If you prefer it thinner, use less liquid.
- Double the batch — You’ll definitely wish you made more once you taste your first bite. We always double the recipe!
- A few tablespoons of tomato paste makes a delicious addition to adobo.
- We calculate nutritional information for our recipes with Cronometer.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe to recipe. All prices are in USD.
Note: We’ve updated this post to include new information and helpful tips about the recipe.