I’ve been in a grilling rut for a while, especially when it comes to chicken and vegetables. I have two stand-bys that I keep returning to. For a rub, it’s based on the Mustang Spice from Canyon Cafe: a Tbs Cajun blacking spice, a Tbs chile powder (New Mexico or Ancho), a shake of salt and a shake of fennel seed. For a marinade, it’s half lemon juice, half olive oil, with a shake of salt, Mexican oregano, and chile powder. They’re both quick, easy, and don’t take a lot of measuring.
But like I said, a rut. No matter how good something is, no one wants it all of the time.
Which is why this adobo from Chef Louise Mellor caught my eye. (That, and the fact that she is an amazing photographer, so everything she posts catches my eye.) “Adobo” is like “salsa,” in that it simply means “sauce.” There’s no right or wrong answer as to what constitutes an adobo, and the term differs greatly from region to region. Many of them seem to be thinner than most grilling sauces, as they work as both a marinade and mop, and the vinegar base of this helps it to penetrate the chicken before it hits the flame.
I just happened to pick up a bag of dried New Mexico chile peppers, even though I had no idea what I was going to do with them. I’m sure I could soak them and reconstitute them, but since they were already dried and I needed chile powder for this adobo, I figured I could grind them in a coffee bean grinder.
The result was a spice that was full-flavored without being overwhelming, that tasted fresh as though it had just been picked that afternoon. One dried pepper turned into 2-3 Tbs of fresh chile powder, and since a bag of 8-10 dried peppers cost around $1.50, it also turned out to be more economical than getting a generic bottle of chile spice from the grocery store.
Chicken and Veggies in Chile-Lime Adobo, adapted from Satisfied.
More on spice:
There’s a little shop right down the street from the big REI in Denver called Savory Spice. A whole shop, nothing but spices.
Now a lot of folks will look at this and think, nothing but spices? Gotta be some kind of hippy, yuppy, over-priced hooplah, yeah? You can get spice from the grocery store … why make a special trip for your paprika?
First of all, they are anything but over-priced. Some specialty spices might cost a little bit more, but most are actually less expensive than their major brand counterparts, I’m guessing because they buy in bulk and grind them in shop as they need them, without adding stabilizers or preservatives, without fancy labels or advertising, and without a lot of shipping and distribution costs. And because you can purchase your spice in whatever size you want, you’re not going to buy a big bottle of something you’ll use twice that will go bad sitting on your shelf unused for years and years and years. You can buy just about everything in 0.5/ 1/2/4/8/16 oz packets, and use your own bottles and save even more.
So price and value are the first reasons to shop there. But quality is the most important. Without any stabilizers or preservatives, and because the spice was ground right there in the shop, it’s amazing how the target flavor of a particular spice shines through. The words you keep hearing as folks sample in the shop are bright, crisp, and fresh.
Of course, you could do this yourself, if you are willing to hunt down the raw materials each and every time, which is typically a lot harder than it sounds. Sometimes it is quite easy, though. And if you’re lucky enough to have a good Hispanic section in your grocery store, dried peppers are a great way to start.