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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Carne Adobo y Tortillas

So, for El Cinco de Mayo this year, I decided to try going a little more 'authentic' with one of my more favourite Mexican dishes.

Carne adobo is essentially meat marinated in some seriously delicious (and surprisingly complex) spices.  I've always loved adobo sauces in restaurants, but have never made it myself, so I figured this would be as good a time as any to try.


I'm not sure if it is considered authentically Mexican to use beef (steak) for this, however, as I've most often seen it used with pork.  In fact, I think steak is more often just grilled up simply, as in carne asada.

Oh well.  It was still more authentic than I've ever ventured into Mexican cuisine.


Also, I decided this would be a good time to try re-conceptualizing my tortillas.  Typically in the past, I've used corn flour, and unbleached flour sometimes, mixed with water and then fried in some vegetable oil.  These make some pretty delicious, crispy tortillas, but not like you would get in a restaurant.

A while back I heard of masa harina.  I don't need to get into it a whole lot (even though its history is quite cool!) but basically it is corn which has been soaked in limewater (calcium hydroxide solution) and then dried and powdered.  There are a lot of cool reasons for doing this (see above-mentioned cool history), but one of the niftiest is that it allows for the formation of dough.  

So, my previous iterations of tortillas made with just plain corn flour, are actually just cheap facsimiles.  So, basically GARBAGE.


I don't know why I had never heard of masa harina before.
I don't know why previous recipes I'd researched suggested plain corn flour.
I have heard of masa harina now, and you can be sure that I will be keeping a bag in my pantry from here on out.


Anyway, here's my humble foray into this awesome Mexican dish.

First of all, adobo sauce is a marinade.  So your meat should be soaking in this spicy acidic mixture for a while.  I unfortunately didn't decide to do this until the day of, so my meat only soaked for a short time -- ideally (and when I do this again some day) I'd marinade the meat for at least 24 hours.

Anyway, it still turned out excellently.

I did loosely follow a recipe for this (at least as much as I EVER follow a recipe I guess), and I was surprised (and delighted!) by how complex the flavour medley is.  I mean, there are like 10 different independent flavours all playing together in this symphony and complementing each other exquisitely.

It is a hot sauce.

Just so you know.

Like really hot.

But, what I'm trying to get across is that there are so many other subtle underpinnings, it is not just a chilli sauce.

Anyway, the recipe I followed called for many peppers.  6 guajillo peppers.  I didn't have guajillo peppers around, but I did have jalapeños   And considering they're roughly the same value on the Scoville scale, I figured it would be fine.  I've also seen adobo sauces made with chipotle peppers, which is also roughly the same Scoville value.  So again, I felt justified that it would work out.

So, chillies, chillies, chillies.

Six jalapeño chilli peppers with removed stems, seeds, and membranes, and chopped loosely.

Fried for a few short minutes on medium in a small amount of oil, just to get them to brown.

Once browned, add a small amount (I'd say about 50ml) of water, turn down to low and cover.

Basically we're now softening the browned chillies.

That can simmer on low for a good 10 or 15 minutes, during which time you can prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Next in terms of concentration, would come the onion.  A good half an onion.  Diced finely.

Then comes garlic.  I put in about 4 large cloves, and they were large, so I'd suggest about 6 medium cloves.

Next comes an assortment -- a true plethora -- of dried spices.  And why I say this sauce is complex in flavour.

I'll illustrate this in montage form:  :)

Lime Zest (pinch)

1 tsp Salt (I used Black Hawaiian salt)

1/2 tsp Sugar (I used yellow sugar)

1 tsp Oregano (dried, freshly milled)

1/2 tsp Cumin Seed (freshly milled)

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

Ground Cloves (pinch)

And, when all mixed together, this medley smelled delightful.  And understandably heady.

Now, despite its complexity, this sauce is actually quite easy.  In the sense of being able to just throw all this in together at the same time.

So, this spice blend sits expectantly aside for a few minutes, because the chillies are done and require just one last step.

The excess liquid needs to be separated. 

So pour the whole thing into a finely meshed sieve and gently squish the peppers, retaining the leftover liquid.

Set this leftover liquid aside for now.

Grab a medium mixing bowl (or a large liquid measure, like you see me using here), and mix together (as unceremoniously as you like!) the onion, garlic, softened chillies, and the dried spice mixture we just concocted.

Mix that all together and throw it back into the pan you just used to cook the chillies.

Add 1/4 cup of cider vinegar to the whole thing.

And then let that simmer down for a few minutes (I'd say about 5).

This is the point where you assess if you need to add that saved chilli liquid back into the mix.  Add it sparingly, and only if the mixture appears very dry.  That said, I ended up using all of it.

Anyway, when the whole thing is nicely browned and softened, 

Empty the entire contents to a blender and puree the living crap out of it.

I encourage extra blending here.  This should be very smooth.

And that's the adobo sauce.

It is now ready for marinading some meat.

In my case, some delicious flank steak.


I'm starting to really LIKE flank steak.  But, that's a story for another day I suppose.

Anyway, the steak got sliced relatively thinly and then got immersed in the adobo sauce.  

Like I said earlier, I would have preferred to let this sit for a day or more, but I didn't have that long, so it was only a couple hours.  


But it turned out just fine.

Now to the TORTILLAS.  Oh man these were good.  I didn't have a tortilla press, so they didn't LOOK all that lovely (kind of ugly, actually) but they were perfect otherwise.

The bag of masa harina basically said 2 cups to 1 1/2 cups water and a 1/4 tsp salt.  But I like some cumin in there, so I ground some of that up with the salt.

But other than that it is a pretty simple mix.

And easy enough to roll into six balls of dough.

Now, the package said to 'add more water if dough appears dry'.  Well, I had to add quite a bit of water as the dough was very dry for some reason.  Anyway, it took a while to reach a balance between overly crumbly and overly sticky, but eventually we had a good mix to roll out.

Again, a tortilla press would have made beautifully thin, perfectly round tortillas, but alas I was forced to use a rolling pin.


This stuff was kind of tricky to work with, and I found it hard to keep from splitting and crumbling, or sticking to the rolling pin.

It was the genius suggestion of the wife to place parchment paper on either side of the dough, which saved me from stabbing the wall with the rolling pin, and hucking the dough, baseball-like, out the window in frustration.

So, after that it was relatively painless to roll the dough out thinly enough and then grill them in a non-stick pan.

They don't take too long - maybe 2 minutes per side - and are ready when they've browned in spots.

They LOOK really brittle, but they're actually not.  I couldn't get over the difference between using masa harina vs. corn flour alone.  These tortillas were soft and fluffy, yet totally malleable and roll-able.  Useful for making burritos.  :)

So, these took a while, but we kept them relatively warm by keeping them wrapped in a tea towel.

They may not have looked like much, but they were just about perfect!

And now to cook the carne adobo!

In a heated (hot) pan, I grilled the steak pieces in batches.  Grilled right along with any and all accompanying adobo sauce.

They only took about 5 minutes per batch, and only made the wife and I cough a few times.  ;)  I didn't really think the capsaicin could so easily become airborne by cooking.  But it did.  :)

The steak pieces browned beautifully before long, and once done, we were ready to eat.


Another shout out to the wife during this meal, for being what I affectionately term my kitchen bitch.

While I was grilling the steak, she was busy preparing all of the assorted toppings for burritos, including shredded cheddar cheese, chopped lettuce, greek yogurt (we like to use greek yogurt instead of sour cream... it's thick and cool and great for this sort of thing), and the like.

So it was just a matter of ASSEMBLY at this point.


And, like I mentioned, even though the tortillas LOOKED kinda brittle, they weren't, and in fact rolled much easier than any other previous iteration I have made in the past.

These were delightful, and several times throughout consumption I found myself commenting on how 'real' they tasted.

Hot, to be sure, but so freaking good.

So, I realize it may have been a little unclassy and certainly a little cliché, to cook this up on Cinco de Mayo, but I really had intended to try this anyway, and the 5th of May was just the excuse I needed to try it.