It’s impossible to say where exactly adobada, (or sometimes, adovada), comes from. Generally, it’s a safe bet that northern Mexico, past and present, is the source. Adobada in Catalan means marinated, which doesn’t give a whole bunch of clues at to what we’re supposed to marinate with. As it turns out, that’s OK though, because however you make it, carne adobada is 100% delicious.
Adobada is popular all over Mexico. In its simplest form, adobada marinade might just include red chiles (powdered or minced), vinegar, and Mexican oregano, while more involved iterations can approach mole in their complexity. It’s arguably most popular in the coastal states south of Puerta Vallarta – Jalisco, Colima, and Michoacan. There the chile power is likely to be a mix of guajillo, ancho, pasilla, or chipotles. Adobada is also wholly embraced by New Mexican cuisine. There, the chile in question will undoubtedly be New Mexican red, AKA Hatch, (varying in power from fairly mild to nuclear, depending upon one’s proclivities.)
Back in the days before refrigeration, the cut up pork most commonly used for the dish might be tossed into a pot with the lactobacillus acidophilus that generates yoghurt. Doing so would aid in preservation, and impart a subtle sour note to the finished dish – That’s likely why modern iterations call for citrus or vinegar in the mix. Ditto for the reason most cooks prefer their adobada chiles con pellejo (with skins) – the chiles either blistered by roasting or, if using dried, toasted during the cooking process – This adds a subtle bitter note that many folks insist is absolutamente necesario for authentic taste.
Truth be told, a lot of marinating came into play because the meats it was working on were less than stellar in quality or condition, (and that’s still true in much of the world.) Here, where we’re privileged to have amazing proteins available pretty much any time, it’s done to add things to the mix, not hide them. Even if we’re building a complex palette of flavors, we want the true flavor of beef, pork, chicken, tofu, or beans to remain notable – That’s achieved by balance in the marinade, and paying attention to the way we cook.
look up adobada on a search engine and you’ll see myriad ways to cook suggested, or even insisted upon. What I believe is necessary is this – The finished product must have a distinct outer crust, almost burnt, (as you’d generate when making great chili or beef stew), while the inside of each chunk needs to be tender and juicy. While some places offer adobada that’s more like a stew, to me that’s just chile colorado – Another thing altogether, really.
Many cooks think there’s only one way to do this, (theirs), but it ain’t necessarily so – You can get there by stove top, or grill, or baking, as you please. For M2¢W, I think a multi-stage cook is in order. Specifically, a relatively low and slow primary cook, followed by a quick, hot seat just prior to serving. That is, in fact, what a fair share of restaurants that offer adobada as I’ve described do. It works great, and it gives you flexibility when you’re short on time.
You can do adobada with any protein you like, (and you should), but you aught to start with pork – That’s the holy grail of the dish. For that, you’ll want around 3 pounds of fresh, boneless shoulder. And for those of you who don’t eat meat, I’m here to tell you this will rock with fresh, firm tofu, or great beans.
So, what I’ll offer here is an amalgam of some Mexican and New Mexican ingredients and techniques that will deliver the goods, and it’s a gas to make too. With this marinade, you can go as long as overnight, but at the very least, let it bathe for a good 4 hours prior to cooking. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can certainly do this in a 325° F oven, (but why would you not have a slow cooker?)
The chiles I used were picked to feed the hybrid theme. None of them are particularly hot, because to me, this dish isn’t designed to burn your face off – It’s meant to provide a pleasant chile buzz as a top note of the marinade. You can use more, or sub hotter varieties as you please, (David Berkowitz? I’m talking about you, Pal.) The same goes for garlic, as you can certainly find adobada so laden with ajo that it’ll be your signature scent for days to come, but to me, that’s not the point – Balance is.
Urban’s Carne Adobada
3 – 3 1/2 Pounds Boneless Pork Shoulder
2-3 Cups low sodium Chicken Stock
1 Cup chile soaking water
1-2 dried Ancho Chiles, seeded
2-3 dried Guajillo Chiles, seeded
1 dried Chipotle Chile, seeded
1-3 dried New Mexican Red (Hatch) Chiles, seeded
3-5 cloves fresh Garlic
1/2 medium Onion (roughly 1 cup)
1/2 Cup fresh Orange Juice
1/2 Cup Raisins
1/4 Cup live Cider Vinegar
3 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
1 teaspoon Agave Nectar
1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin
2 Bay Leaves
NOTE: in the images here, you’ll see I used some ground, some flake, and some whole chiles – That’s what I had, so that’s what I used. Certainly, the more whole dried you use, the more of that smoky, bitter con pellejo flavor you’ll get into the mix.
Allow a cast iron skillet over high heat to get truly hot.
Remove seeds from chiles, but leave the stems on, (it makes them easier to handle and flip)
Toast chiles, flipping regularly until they start to smoke a bit.
Transfer chiles to a bowl, add bay leaves, and cover well with boiling water. Allow to steep for 30 minutes, until they’re nice and soft.
Put raisins in another small bowl and cover with about 1” of boiling water. Let them steep for the time remaining on the chile soaking clock.
Add unpeeled garlic cloves to the skillet and reduce heat to medium. Toast the garlic, flipping regularly, until the skin is scorched and the cloves are notably soft, about 5-8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
While that’s going on, cut your pork shoulder into roughly 1” steaks and trim excess fat. Shoulder has plenty of interstitial fat, so remove any really big hunks and obvious silver skin, but don’t go overboard – Pork fat is good.
When your chiles are ready, drain them, and reserve the soaking water – Just make sure you check the heat level so you know what you’re dealing with. You can chuck the bay leaves.
Remove the stems from your reconstituted chiles, mince them, then toss them into a blender vessel.
Peel the garlic and add that, along with 2 cups of the chicken stock, the orange juice, the drained raisins (don’t need to save that soaking liquid), the vinegar, a tablespoon of avocado oil, a pinch of salt, the agave nectar, and the ground cumin.
Cover and pulse all that until you get a nice mix. There will be some chunks of this and that still, which is just fine.
Arrange your pork in a baking dish and pour in all the marinade. Lift each piece of pork to make sure you get marinade on the undersides of each piece.
Cover the pan with metal foil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
When you’re ready to cook –
Peel and trim and dice onion.
Remove pork from baking dish and arrange in slow cooker – Leave the lion’s share of the marinade in the baking dish.
Add the reserved chile soaking water to the marinade, along with a pinch of salt, the oregano, and lemon thyme. Stir all that to incorporate, and then pour it all into the slow cooker. Add the diced onion on top and cover.
You can cook on low, medium, or high as you’ve got time for – Lower and slower is better, but they’ll all do just fine. Cook until the pork is fork tender, which on our pot means anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.
When you’re ready to serve, heat 2 tablespoons of avocado oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat.
Add as much pork as you want for the meal to the skillet and let it cook, unflipped, until it develops a nice dark crust, about 3-5 minutes. Flip once to get the other side.
Transfer pork to a serving platter.
Serve with fresh, warm tortillas, pico de gallo, pickled onions/chiles/radishes, crema, lime wedges, and maybe some queso fresco or cotija, and cold, cold Mexican beer.
Monica had two quotes after this meal that I’ll share here –
‘This is better than anything we’ve ever had a Mexican restaurant,’ and
‘You’ve bested me in slow cooker pork.’
Coming from her, that’s fairly amazing, so – Just sayin’…
This post is dedicated to the late, great food writer Jonathan Gold. There’s a guy who knew how to write about food. His love, passion, humor, and vast knowledge always shown through, and damn, could he write great last lines. Thanks man, you’re missed, but never forgotten.