Pollo Adobado,  photo by Arnold Gatilao
Well my first cookbook is no longer being printed by my publisher, Alta Mira Press, (so if you don’t have a copy of Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, best to grab one now while there are still a few copies out there); so it must be time to work on my second cookbook. Some of you may know that the recipes in Celebraciones Mexicanas were the contribution of Adriana Almazan Lahl. In my next book, the recipes will be all mine and I have started kitchen-testing already. As I do, I will occasionally publish results here, to keep you all interested, so be sure to follow me! If you would like to be put on an email list, I can let you know when COOKBOOK #2 is published.


Mexican cuisine is replete with rich salsas, most of which use several chiles. Salsa is just the Spanish word for “sauce” and as such, in the broadest sense, would have to also include marinades. The verb adobar means to marinate, typically meat or poultry in a sauce made of dry-roasted chiles and spices called adobo. So when you eat a taco of Pollo Adobado with a fresh Pico de Gallo or Salsa Verde, you’re getting “sauced” from the inside out AND the outside in! No wonder it’s so flavorful!


(top left, inside of a guajillo chile, middle left ancho chiles  , bottom left chipotle mecos, large photo guajillos on the comal)

The recipe below uses two kinds of relatively mild chiles: Anchos are mild, measuring 1000-1500 on the Scoville Scale (a fascinating measure of “How many equal parts of sugar water do I need to add to a same-sized part of ground chili pepper until I taste no discernible heat at all?” according to, while guajillos are mild-to-medium at 2500-5000 Scovilles. You can control the heat of the adobo by adding more or less of each of these two, but still nine chiles between those two strains and eleven in total.

I like to add the two chipotle meco chiles (5000 Scovilles) because these are smokey and enhance the flavor of the adobo. Chipotle (pronounced chi-poht-lay) comes from the Nahuatl word chilpoctli, meaning “smoked chili” and chipotles are actually smoked red jalapeños, which are the same as the more common green jalapeños (2000-8000 Scovilles, why the wide range? More on this just a little later). Green jalapeños are harvested earlier in the ripening process, whereas red jalapeños are left on the vine to mature, allowing the chilies time to change color, from green to red. Chipotle mecos (can be a bit harder to find in your local grocer if there’s not a large Mexican population where you live: available on-line at The Savory Spice Shop, or in SF’s Mission district at Casa Lucas on 24th Street) are a dried version of these. If you are worried about too much spice, you can omit the chipotle mecos and use 1/8 teaspoon of Applewood smoked salt in place of the 1/4 teaspoon of salt in this recipe.


Several years ago, I started to notice that some of the fresh chiles I was buying, specifically jalapeños and Serranos, just didn’t seem to have the same punch they had in the past. I kept adding more and more chiles to my guacamole, but couldn’t get the result I was looking for. Something was going on! So, of course, I googled “dumbed down jalapeños” and sure enough, I found this on Chowhound (which I was able to confirm with some further research), “Some years ago the Texas Aggies developed a mild jalapeño called “TAM Mild Jalapeño.” They have recently released or are about to release a newer variety called “TAM Mild Jalapeño II.” In addition to being milder, these peppers are resistant to disease and are good producers. So, I’ll suggest that most complaints about wimpy jalapeños should be addressed to Texas A&M. Good luck trying to find a consistent, reliable source of good, hot, older varieties.” Hence, the Scoville rating of 2000-8000. Generally, I have had better luck in the Mexican markets in the Mission of late when I search for a pepper that bites back, with the wimpy chiles appearing mostly at Safeway and other mainstream sellers. I always bite before I buy, though!

Basic Adobo (slightly smokey flavor)

(MAKES 1 – 1 ½ CUPS)

6 ancho chiles

3 guajillo chiles

2 chiles mecos

1 tbsp. allspice

1 tsp. cinnamon, grated from Mexican cinnamon sticks

½ tsp. cumin seeds, dry-roasted on comal

1 tsp. Mexican oregano

1/4 cup apple vinegar + more if needed

4 tbsp. granular piloncillo or grate 4 tbsp. from a pilconcillo cone, or substitute brown sugar ( + more if needed)


Piloncillo vs. brown sugar: Called piloncillo (little loaf) because of the traditional shape in which this smoky, caramel-like, earthy sugar is produced; it has far more flavor than brown sugar, which is generally just white sugar with a small amount of molasses added back to it. Just like brown sugar, there are two varieties of piloncillo: one is lighter (blanco) and one is darker (oscuro).  It is unrefined and commonly used in Mexico, where it has been around for almost 500 years. Made from crushed sugar cane (which was introduced to Mexico by the Spaniards), the juice is collected, boiled, and poured into molds, where it hardens into blocks or cones. To use it, pound with a meat hammer while it is in a thick baggie, or shave using a vegetable peeler or cheese grater. It’s more work, for sure, than using brown sugar– but the flavor is totally worth it. Follow link in the ingredients list (just above) for a granulated version sold by Rancho Gordo. Photo by Leslie Seaton.


½ white onion

6 garlic cloves

¼ tsp. salt

Dry roast all chiles on the comal. Dry-roasting is a cooking technique which uses no oil, it’s also the correct way to heat tortillas. If you don’t have a comal, you can use a non-stick or better yet, a cast-iron pan. Take care that the chiles don’t burn– when they just barely start getting black spots on both sides and blistering, they are done. Note that the different chiles will have different cooking times, so watch them carefully. The guajillos cook very quickly, the anchos (which are dried and wrinkly poblanos) and the chipotle mecos both need a little more cooking time (we are talking about the difference between 30 seconds and a minute here) and do best when pressed down and weighted. I use a pot filled with water. Alternatively, you may press them down continuously with cooking tongs. This assures that as much of the surface area as possible meets the comal.


Next, place chiles in hot water to rehydrate (just above). Once hydrated and soft (allow 15-30 minutes), remove stems and veins (this also helps control how spicy your salsa is, as the seeds and veins are much hotter than the chile, itself) and mix all but one of each of the three kinds of chiles (so five anchos, two guajillos and one chiptole meco) with all remaining ingredients. Retain the chile water. Mix ingredients well in blender until a paste the thickness of canned tomato paste is formed (this is the adobo); add water from chiles as needed to keep the blender moving. Taste for salt, sweetness, acidity and spiciness. You are going for a balanced result. Add more chiles to taste. Keeps well in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or frozen for 6 months.

Use to marinate meat or poultry for several hours or overnight before grilling. Brush a little more on chicken if you are cooking it with skin on (see photo top of post) just as you put it on the grill.


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