Adobo Sauce

This adobo sauce recipe is an authentic, earthy, rich Mexican condiment, marinade or sauce that is huge on flavor and easy to make at home!

Adobo Sauce is a rich, ridiculously flavorful, velvety, earthy, tangy-sweet, spicy, smoky Mexican staple made with ground ancho and guajillo chiles. It takes about 30 minutes to make from start to finish (15 minutes of that is hand’s off simmering) and then the hypnotic blend is ready to elevate all your dishes throughout the week or it can be frozen in portions for later.  This smoky adobo sauce is begging to be mopped over steak or chicken, as a braise for chicken or beef, as a sauce for enchiladas or burritos, as a dip for birria tacos, vegetables, etc. or drizzled over eggs.  With one taste, you’ll be hooked!

Sauces are the best way to add flavor to any dish! Try this adobo sauce, chipotle sauce, guacamole, avocado cremaroasted red pepper sauce, barbecue sauce, tzatziki and chimichurri.

HOW TO MAKE adobo sauce recipe VIDEo

showing how to serve adobo sauce by dipping a taco in the sauce
side view showing how to make adobo sauce by blending softened chilies, tomatoes, garlic and onions in a blender

Adobo Sauce Recipe Ingredients 

The ingredients for this adobo sauce recipe may look a little intimidating at first glance, but that’s just because it’s packed with flavorful spices.  If you don’t usually cook with whole spices or keep them stocked, you may substitute with ground instead.   Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need (full measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

The Whole Spices 

The whole spices are toasted to unlock their flavor, then stewed with the chilies and blended into the smoky adobo sauce. I have included dried and granulated substitutions in the recipe, but go whole if you can because their toasted aroma adds a complex depth to the adobo sauce. Many of these seasonings can be picked up at the grocery store, but you may need to order some online. I’ve linked the seasonings below to Amazon for easy purchasing if need be:

The Sauce

In addition to the whole spices, the adobo sauce is made with whole ground chilies, onions, garlic, tomatoes and apple cider vinegar for its signature tanginess.  I’ve provided more information on the dried chiles further down this post, but here’s an overview of these ingredients:

  • Dried chiles:  Three varieties of dried chiles are used in the adobo sauce to round out the rich, smoky flavor. More details in the following section. 
  • Onion:  Use one small yellow onion or half a large onion. You may substitute with 1 teaspoon onion powder.
  • Garlic:  Eight whole garlic cloves may sound like a lot but they will not overpower the sauce. You may substitute with 2 teaspoons garlic powder.
  • Tomatoes: Vine-ripened tomatoes are the most flavorful or you may use Roma tomatoes or one can of fire roasted tomatoes. 
  • Apple cider vinegar: Just two tablespoons add the needed acidity to cut through the earthy chili sauce. You may substitute with rice vinegar but do not substitute with white vinegar because it is much more sour.
  • Water or broth:  You may use water or I like to use chicken broth if I’m using the sauce with chicken or beef broth if using the sauce with beef. Use reduced sodium broth so the adobo sauce isn’t too salty or use regular broth and omit the salt and salt to taste.
  • Ground herbs and spices:  The spicy adobo sauce is further enhanced with smoked paprika, dried thyme, dried oregano and salt to taste.  Of course, you may substitute with fresh herbs if you like, the general rule is three times fresh to dried.
top view of spicy adobo sauce recipe in a bowl showing how thick it is
showing how to make adobo sauce by showing what guajillo chilies, ancho chilies and arbol chilies look like

HOW TO MAKE adobo sauce

This is a very easy adobo sauce recipe and hard to mess up!  Although there are a few extra steps you may not have tried before (like toasting the spices and using whole chilies), it’s SO worth the extra 5 minutes to use whole ingredients.

Step 1: Remove the Seeds from the Chiles

  • The seeds need to be removed from the chilies before using because the seeds contain most of the heat – if you leave them in, your mouth will be on fire and the adobo sauce will be inedible. 
  • The easiest way to remove the seeds is to cut the tops off of the chilies with kitchen shears. Next, cut the chilies along one edge and open them like a book to expose the seeds inside.
  • Scrape out all of the seeds.
  • Next, toast the chilies in a dry skillet for just a few minutes. Set aside until ready to use.  
showing how to make adobo sauce by removing seeds from guajillo chili peppers

Step 2: Toast the Whole Spices

  • Dry toast the whole spices over medium heat until super fragrant. You can do this any time before making the recipe.  Set aside until ready to use.
showing how to make adobo sauce by toasting coriander, cumin, cloves and cinnamon in a skillet

Step 3: Sauté the Aromatics

  • Heat some oil a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, then add the garlic and sauté for one minute.  
  • You’ll notice my onions are deeply golden because I sautéed them in the same pot I browned my chicken in. This adds additional complexity of flavor.
showing how to make adobo sauce by sauteing onions and garlic in a Dutch oven

Step 4: Stew the Chilies

  • Add the toasted spices, deseeded chilies, tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, dried oregano, smoked paprika, dried thyme and bay leaves. Add 3 cups of the water or broth. Bring to a simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the peppers are very soft, stirring occasionally.
showing how to make adobo sauce recipe by adding dried chilies, tomatoes, vinegar and sugar to a pot and simmering to soften the chilies

Step 5: Blend the sauce

  • Transfer the mixture to a high-powered blender and puree until smooth.
showing how to make adobo sauce by blending softened chilies, tomatoes, garlic and onions in a blender
  • Want to make it spicier?  Add an additional 1 chili de arbol for super spicy adobo sauce. 
  • Want to make it tangier?  Add up to 2 tablespoons additional apple cider vinegar ½ tablespoon at a time.
  • Want to make it thinner?  Add additional water or broth until it reaches your desired consistency.
  • Want to make it more flavorful?  This adobo sauce recipe is plenty flavorful so if your sauce tastes like it’s missing something, it’s probably heat or salt.  Add cayenne or salt to taste.
  • Want to mix up the flavors?  Use a different ratio of chiles. Try increasing the chilies de arbol and reducing the guajillo chilies for a shift in flavor. 
spooning adobo sauce recipe showing how thick it is
  • Chicken Adobado (Mexican Chicken Adobo):  Season 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Sear the chicken then pour the sauce over top.  Cover, and bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes or until cooked to 175 degrees F. You can enjoy the chicken with rice or shred and use in tacos, burritos, quesadillas, flautas, etc. outlined below.
  • Beef Adovada: Cut 3 pounds boneless chuck roast into 4-inch pieces then season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.  Sear the beef on all sides then pour the sauce over top along with 3 cups beef broth.  Cover and bake at 300 degrees for 3 hours or until fall apart tender.  Shred the beef and use it in tacos, burritos, etc.
  • Stew: Serve shredded adobado chicken or beef adovada as a stew with rice and warmed tortillas on the side with chopped onions, cilantro and freshly squeezed lime. 
  • Mexican Inspired Soups:  Add spicy adobo sauce to any of your favorite soups like Crockpot Chili, Chile Colorado, Taco Soup, Chicken Enchilada Soup, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Pozole, etc. for an instant punch of flavor.
  • Adobo Enchiladas:  Use it in chicken or beef enchiladas, or enchilada casserole instead of your favorite enchiladas sauce.
  • Enchilada Sauce Substitute:  Swap it for enchilada sauce in any recipe such as Beef Barbacoa, Chipotle Pork, Fajita Pasta, Taco Pasta, Mexican Chicken and Rice, etc.
  • Dressings:  Mix some smoky adobo sauce into your favorite dressing like cilantro ranch or simply with some mayonnaise and sour cream to create a dressing or sauce.
  • Crema:  Stir a couple tablespoons into Greek yogurt, sour cream and/or mayonnaise (or even guacamole!) to create a subtly smoky crema for veggies, fries, pita bread, taquitos, flautas, fries, grilled chickengrilled shrimp, pork, etc. or to drizzle over tacos, fajitas, burritos, etc.
  • Spread:  Stir a couple tablespoons into mayonnaise to create a spread for sandwiches, burgers, wraps, paninis, etc.  
  • Rice:  Stir some spicy adobo sauce into plain rice or rice with shrimp, chicken or beef. 
  • Beans:  Stir some smoky adobo sauces into beans for a meaty, smoky, earthy depth.
  • Marinade:  Mix some adobo sauce with olive oil and use as a marinade for chicken, beef or pork.
  • Breakfast foods: Drizzle it over chorizo eggs, chilaquiles, breakfast tacos, breakfast taquitos, breakfast enchiladashuevos rancheros, migas, etc., or spice up traditional breakfast foods like scrambled eggs, omelettes, frittatas,  quiche, etc.
  • Chicken or Beef Birria Tacos:  Adobo Sauce is the sauce used in both chicken and beef birria tacos!  Stew the meat in the sauce until fall apart tender, then remove and shred.  To make the tacos, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet or cast-iron skillet over medium heat.  Working with one tortilla at a time, dip it into the top of the sauce and cook for 1-2 minutes until the bottom is golden.  Flip the tortilla over and immediately cover the entire surface with shredded Oaxaca cheese. Cover, and cook until the cheese is mostly melted. Uncover and top half of the cheese with shredded meat. Cook until the bottom is lightly charred then fold the tortilla over in half to form a taco.  See my Beef Birria Tacos for exactly how to make them.
  • Adobo Quesadillas: Layer a burrito size tortilla with cheese and chicken adobado or beef adovada and grill until golden, cheesy perfection. Top with guacamole, sour cream, chopped lettuce, hot sauce, etc.
  • Flautas or Taquitos: Roll shredded chicken adobado or beef adovada in corn (taquitos) or flour (flautas) tortillas along with cheese and beans if desired. To pan fry, heat 1 cup vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until 325 degrees F. Once hot, add 2-4 flautas/taquitos seam side down in oil. Fry, turning as needed until golden brown on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes, adjusting burner as necessary to maintain oil temperature so they don’t fry too quickly. To bake, place taquitos/flautas on a wire rack placed on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Brush the taquitos/flautas with olive oil and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Broil for extra crispiness.
showing how to serve spicy adobo sauce recipe by serving with tacos

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showing how to serve spicy adobo sauce recipe by serving with tacos

Adobo Sauce

Adobo Sauce is a rich, ridiculously flavorful, velvety, earthy, tangy-sweet, spicy, smoky Mexican staple made with ground ancho and guajillo chiles. It takes about 30 minutes to make from start to finish (15 minutes of that is hand’s off simmering) and then the hypnotic blend is ready to elevate all your dishes throughout the week or it can be frozen in portions for later.  This smoky adobo sauce is begging to be mopped over steak or chicken, as a braise for chicken or beef, as a sauce for enchiladas or burritos, as a dip for birria tacos, vegetables, etc. or drizzled over eggs.  With one taste, you’ll be hooked!
Servings: 3 cups
Total Time: 30 minutes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

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Ingredients

SPICES (WHOLE OR GROUND)

SAUCE

Instructions

  • Dry toast the spices in a large skillet over medium heat until evenly toasted, shaking the skillet occasionally. They’re done once they smell super fragrant. Transfer to a bowl or plate so they don’t continue to cook; set aside.
  • Add the peppers and dry roast for a couple minutes per side to toast; remove from the skillet.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
  • Add the toasted spices followed by the deseeded chilies, and all the remaining Adobo Sauce ingredients (tomatoes through water). Bring to a simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the peppers are very soft, stirring occasionally.
  • Transfer the mixture to a high powered blender (in batches if needed) and purée until smooth, leaving a corner of the lid open and covered with a paper towel so steam can escape and it doesn’t explode. (NOTE: If you don’t have a high-powered blender, then strain the chili sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, using rubber spatula to push the mixture through. The solids left behind are the spices so don’t toss them! You can wrap them in a cheese cloth or mash them and add them to the sauce.)

Video

Notes

  • Water or broth:  You may use water or I like to use chicken broth if I’m using the sauce with chicken or beef broth if using the sauce with beef. Use reduced sodium broth so the adobo sauce isn’t too salty or use regular broth and omit the salt and salt to taste.
  • Dried Chilies: Dried chilies can be found at any Mexican market as well as many grocery stores (and many super Walmart’s depending on your location) in either the Mexican aisle or produce section. Many produce stores such as Sprouts and Whole Foods also carry packages of dried chilies. If you can’t find them or simply want a one-click option, then you can purchase them on Amazon here: ancho chiles, guajillo chili, arbol chiles.
  • Storage:  Adobo sauce should be store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days or it can be frozen for up to three months.  You can freeze it in an airtight freezer friendly container, freezer bag(s), or freeze the sauce in ice cube trays, then bag them to use as needed.

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