Marinade and Mexican Chili Sauce

Abobo is a Spanish word for “sauce” or “marinade”. This version – a chili marinade containing a mix of ancho, pasilla negro and guajillo peppers, as well as onion, garlic, fresh pineapple, vinegar and lime juice – is traditionally associated with Tacos al Pastor (pork), but is also excellent with grilled or smoked chicken or beef.

What to buy: Chili negro (also called chili pasilla or pasilla negro) is the dried version of chili chilaca. It can be purchased at most Mexican grocers or online. Note that ancho peppers are often mislabeled as pasillas. If you can’t find chili negro, you can use ancho peppers or mulato peppers instead.

Mexican oregano (a relative of lemon verbena) can be found in Latin markets or in the Latin section of your supermarket.

Game plan: If possible, prepare the marinade the day before. Coat the meat in it and refrigerate overnight. If you are short on time, you can marinate the meat for less time, but not less than 4 hours.

This recipe was featured as part of our Safe Mexican Favorites for Cinco de Mayo. See also our chimichurri sauce recipe for an Argentinian twist on grilled classics.

  • Yield: About 4 1/2 cups, or enough to marinate 3 pounds of meat
  • Difficulty: Average
  • Total: About 45 minutes
  • active: About 45 minutes

Ingredients (12)

  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano leaves
  • 5 dried guajillo peppers
  • 5 dried black peppers (also called pasilla negro)
  • 2 dried ancho peppers
  • 1 pineapple (1-1/2 pounds) (about 10 ounces fresh pineapple flesh), peeled, cored, and finely chopped
  • 1 cup finely chopped white onion (about 1 small)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 medium lime)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more if needed


  1. Place the cumin seeds in a medium skillet or cast iron skillet and toast over medium heat, shaking the pan often, until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and let cool slightly. Set the pan aside. Add the cloves and oregano to the spice grinder and grind to a fine powder; transfer the spice mixture to a blender and set aside.
  2. Rinse the peppers under cold running water, then pat them dry with paper towel. Place the chiles in the pan used for roasting the cumin and roast over medium heat, turning occasionally, until fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a cutting board to cool. Wearing rubber gloves, cut the chiles in half lengthwise and discard the seeds and stems. Place the chiles in a medium saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from fire. Reserve 1/2 cup of the chili cooking liquid and let cool. Let the chiles sit in the pot of hot liquid for 5 more minutes. Drain the peppers and let cool.
  4. Add the pineapple, onion, garlic, vinegar, lime juice, measured salt, cooled chilies, and cooled chili liquid to the blender and blend over high heat to a smooth puree.
  5. Use as a marinade for beef, pork or chicken. Marinate the meat for at least 4 hours or up to overnight (ideally overnight). If desired, strain the marinade through a fine-mesh strainer set over a small saucepan; discard the solids. Bring to a boil, season to taste with salt and brush over the cooked meat just before serving.

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