Last week I talked about sofrito, the delicious combination of aromatic vegetables that give Puerto Rican foods their distinct flavor. This week I want to go over another combination of ingredients used more specifically for meats, ADOBO. This amazing blend has evolved with time into a powder combination that could be used for literally anything. Today, we will cover all aspects of adobo, from its beginning to our modern use. I will also give you a recipe to combine your own powder blend if you so desire. Let's begin!
Adobo is a condiment used for the seasoning of meats. These are other seasonings used in Puerto Rican cuisine: Sofrito (a paste used to season meats, this could be a dry rub if made with powdered ingredients), Mojo (a marinade for meats including but not limited to seafood, pork, chicken and beef), and Achiote oil (great to impart color and a smoky flavor to rice.).
What is Adobo?
At its most basic form adobo is a blend of garlic, salt, black pepper, oregano and olive oil. Optional to add an acid like vinegar, lemon, or bitter orange juice. Adobo is used to season meats, poultry, pork, and fish.
Is adobo a powder?
If you were to walk down the baking isle in the grocery store you will find the collection of spices towards the end of the isle. Most likely there will be a small section of spices dedicated to the latin community. You could also find adobo at the International foods isle in the supermarket. Goya and Badia are two of the most popular latin brands you could find in the grocery store. These powered adobos come in different combinations like; regular, without pepper, or without cumin.
The ease of use of powdered adobo has made them quite popular, as well as available to use with all types of cooking. When I was a child we used adobo in lieu of any other seasoning. Besides seasoning meats, we also used it in eggs, rice, pastas, sauces, you name it. The go to seasoning mix, was and still is in many Puerto Rican homes, adobo.
Why I like to use a garlic paste form of adobo and not a powder?
My personal goal is to reconnect with my Puerto Rican roots. Before the convenience of powdered adobo, ingredients such as garlic, peppercorns, salt, vinegar, and oil were ground in a pestle and mortar.
I remember my mother telling me stories about her grandmother cooking in the kitchen. How her grandmother would pound the garlic, peppercorns, and salt in a large pestle and mortar to make a paste that she would rub onto the meat to marinate.
When I went to culinary school the basic way to season meats was with salt, ground pepper, and minced garlic, pretty much the basic ingredients for adobo. Not knowing or realizing what I was learning at the culinary arts school, I cooked for my mother one day. And with a smile brought by reminiscing of childhood days, my mother said, "You took me back to my childhood. You took me back to her." And for a little while, I was connected with my great grandmother whom I never met.
There is versatility in a paste
When you are making your own adobo, whether it is powder or paste, you have more control on the ingredients you are utilizing, and our first point on versatility, control in what we put in our foods and our plates.
The beauty of the paste is the addition of the acid. I guess you could blend lemon juice or vinegar to the powder form to make a paste, but there is a little bit of magic that happens when fresh ingredients intermingle with each other. Rendering their flavors and mixing them together creating a depth and layers of flavor in the final product.
Rabbit Hole Alert!! I know I talk about this depth of flavor often, but I really want you to understand, the experience of eating something is heighten by the process the food was cooked and how it was seasoned. There is nothing more disappointing than eating a dish that's bland. Adequately seasoning your dishes is how you take your cooking to the next level. Seasoning in and of itself, is just as stellar as the dish you are eating.
Versatility point #2
It is the base for a marinade. Many countries forged from Spanish colonization share similar, almost identical, cultures. This is expressed in the arts, music, language, and of course cooking. The only factor different is the natives of the countries colonized, the addition of slaves (like in the Caribbean), and the country's native resources, these elements creative each countries unique flavor profile. Adobo is not, by any means, only Puerto Rican. In Mexico their adobo includes dried smoked chili peppers and orange juice, the Philippines includes ingredients like coconut milk, soy sauce, and green chiles. But the application is the same.
Versatility point #3;
Adobo tenderizes the meat. The whole point of seasoning anything is to one render the natural juices, begin a small amount of breakdown, which helps with digestion, and to make some tougher cuts of meat more tender. The salt and acidity in adobo do just that. I try to season my meats well before I am about to cook them, especially larger cuts of meat like roasts. Finer cuts like steaks and chops, which tend to be a bit more leaner, I would season a bit more sparingly.
Here is a recipe for the fresh ingredients version.
I prefer the fresh ingredient version, I always have these ingredients available in my kitchen and it doesn't take too long to whip a batch. It should last about a month in the refrigerator, but mine only lasts a few weeks, I use it so much.
There is still beauty in the powder adobo
Do not get me wrong, I still use powder adobo. It is after all a great season-anything blend. Sometimes I create my own, sometimes I buy it already made. In the event you would like to make your own spice blend here is a recipe. Although, buying the already blended adobo might be cheaper, you do get a better product if you make it yourself, only by knowing the quantities of the ingredients you are using. Making a blend uniquely yours.
- 1 peppercorn whole black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon dried whole orégano
- 1 clove garlic peeled
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon vinegar or fresh lime juice
- If you have a pestle and mortar, crush peppercorn, oregano, and garlic. Once paste is created add salt, olive oil, and vinegar or lime juice.
- Other option is to place all ingredients in a blender or food processor to create a paste.
- Rub seasoning into meat thoroughly and set in the refrigerator for several hours.