From the verb adobar, meaning to marinate, pickle, cure or even stew, the Mexican adobo acts primarily as a medium for incorporating flavour and starts off as a chilli and spice paste sharpened with vinegar or lime juice. It comes in just two colours, red and green. Adobo Rojo, red adobo, is a far greater celebrity than its sibling: rich and powerful, based on sultry dried chillies and spices, it is used in the first instance as a basic marinade before cooking and then often metamorphoses into a sauce for the finished dish.
Adobo Verde is totally different, clean and breezy, sparkling with herbs, yet warm with roasted fresh chillies and savoury with onions, garlic and pumpkin seeds. Like the red adobo, it acts as a marinade but if it goes any further, it is more as a raw accompanying salsa than a cooked sauce. Its zesty lightness works particularly well with fish and chicken, although I often use it with a steak or lamb cutlets, and it is wonderful with pasta or stirred into scrambled eggs or sauté potatoes.
In the following recipe, I am rubbing fillets of white fish with the adobo before grilling them and then serving the rest separately, to give a cool, refreshing contrast. In the absence of cod, hake, haddock, grouper, swordfish, red snapper, monkfish and sea bass all work well but adjust the cooking time to the thickness of the fillet.
Cod in green adobo – Bacalao en Adobo Verde
25 g/1 oz fat green chillies
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
100 g/4 oz onions, peeled and quartered
25 g/1 oz pumpkin seeds
25 g/1 oz fresh coriander/cilantro
10 g each fresh oregano, marjoram and thyme, leaves stripped from the stalks
5 ml/1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
5 ml/1 tsp white wine or cider vinegar, or as needed
60 ml/4 tbsp olive oil + extra for drizzling
4 fillets of cod, skinned, about 150 g/5 oz each and 1.5cm/2/3 in thick
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat a heavy dry frying pan over medium heat and place the chillies, garlic and onions in it. Cook, turning as necessary, until the skin on the chillies and garlic is lightly charred and the flesh has softened, and the outside of the onions is nicely caramelised. Cool slightly then peel the garlic. Slice the chillies in half, remove the seeds and stem and scrape the flesh from the skin with a small knife or teaspoon.
Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan, stirring all the time, until they are aromatic and start to turn a very pale gold. Be careful not to scorch them or they will be bitter.
In a food processor, blend the chillies, garlic, onions, pumpkin seeds, all the herbs, vinegar and 4 tbsp of olive oil until you have a smooth paste – this is important as a coarse adobo will burn in places while cooking.
Set half the adobo aside and rub the remainder well into the fish fillets. Leave to marinate for an hour or two but no longer as the vinegar will start to toughen the flesh.
Stir a bit of water into the raw adobo to loosen it and season well. Taste and add a bit more vinegar if the flavour needs brightening.
Heat the grill to high. Line the grill pan with kitchen foil and place the fish fillets on it. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and grill about 10 cm/4 in from the heat for five minutes, until the adobo is dark and dry and the fish opaque. The time does depend on the thickness of the fillets so test by flaking gently with a fork.
Serve the fish with the remainder of the adobo.
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