Why Are Canned Chipotle Peppers Used In Adobo Sauce?

Have you ever walked down the canned sauce aisle of your local grocery store and seen a small can of chiles in adobo sauce? If you tend to cook Mexican- or Southwest-inspired dishes, then you might have used this ingredient before, but if you haven't, you might be scratching your head wondering what it is and what it's used for.

With any food ingredient that is new and unfamiliar, the best course of action is to do your research and then give it a try. That way you can expand your recipe repertoire, your food knowledge, and your palate. While chiles in adobo sauce might sound oddly specific, this little can of chiles in a thick sauce can be used in multiple ways for many different types of food preparations. It's a great way to add a smokey flavor with a little bit of heat. While this ingredient is not generally eaten on its own, it's a wonderful way to spice up your sauces or entree dishes. Saddle up as we explore all the ways you can use this spicy and satisfying ingredient. 

What are chipotle peppers?

The simplest way to describe the chipotle peppers you'll find in adobo sauce is smoked and dried jalapeños that have been rehydrated. It might seem like a lot of steps — drying the jalapeño, rehydrating it, and then canning it in a sauce. Why not just use fresh jalapeños instead? But though chipotle peppers are often sold dried, there is something magical that happens when they are smoked and then rehydrated. 

While a fresh jalapeño is hard in its raw state, a chipotle pepper that has been rehydrated is soft, plump, and juicy. Not to mention it has the added smokiness from the smoking process, while a fresh jalapeño has more of the texture of a bell pepper that is spicy. When chipotles are rehydrated and sit in adobo sauce they become infused with the rich flavor of the sauce, which up-levels their flavor even further. This preparation gives them an ideal texture for sauces, marinades, salsas, and more. Wondering what the flavor is like? To understand that we need to dig into what adobo sauce is made of.

What is adobo sauce?

Adobo sauce is a versatile red chile-based sauce that has the consistency of a chunky barbecue sauce. When made on its own, recipes generally call for dried chiles (or chile powder), vinegar, garlic, spices, and sometimes sugar. When you're dealing with a can of chiles in adobo, tomato puree or tomato paste is often included as well. Adobo's flavor is spicy from the chile powder, sweet from the tomato, and tart from the vinegar. Adobo sauce is thought to have been made to preserve and flavor meats. Today, it's mostly used for flavoring. You can add a small amount of it to your meat marinades — like an achiote chicken recipe —  or mix it with mayonnaise and serve it over fish tacos. You can use it to spice up bean dishes and chili recipes and add it to braising liquids for meat like spicy pork shoulder or spicy brisket. 

Adobo sauce on its own has a kick to it, but when you add the chipotle peppers into the mix it's very spicy. It might feel intimidating to try to use the entire can, but there are a few ways you can minimize waste. For texture and flavor, you can use just the chiles and save the sauce for another recipe. For flavor, you can use just the sauce and save the chiles. You can also use both if you want extra spicy flavor and texture. A great efficiency hack if you don't need the entire can — or don't need the chipotles to remain intact for your recipe — is to puree it all and then use an ice cube tray to save smaller portions of it in your freezer.