For Flavorful Cuban-Style Meats, Garlic Adobo Is Essential

Meaning "marinade" in Spanish, adobo takes on many forms, from Filipino meat stew to Mexican chipotle en adobo. Each iteration is a product of the Spanish diaspora, a meeting of Old World culinary traditions with New World ingredients. As one of the first islands visited by Christopher Columbus, and subsequently Spanish colonialism, Cuba's garlic adobo recounts one of the oldest culinary byproducts of the Spanish diaspora.

Garlic adobo is the essential marinade for meat in Cuba and is a recipe known and employed by just about every household and restaurant. Garlic adobo is a wet marinade consisting of chopped garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, and sour orange juice. It provides a burst of spice from the raw garlic, savory notes from the cumin and oregano, and a burst of sour citrus juice. While typical Spanish marinades utilize a vinegar base, the sour orange provides the same acidity with a hint of sweetness, serving as a zesty flavor agent and meat tenderizer.

In the absence of sour orange, a mixture of three parts lime juice to one part orange juice will closely resemble the subtly sweet acidity the marinade imparts on Cuban-style meats. Garlic adobo contains ingredients most households in Cuba and beyond have on hand. Its popularity has spread beyond Cuban soil, with international spice companies selling garlic adobo spice blends to use as dry rubs or combine with a squeeze of citrus.

How to use garlic adobo for Cuban-style meats

Garlic adobo is as easy to use as it is to make. Traditionally, Cubans used a mortar and pestle to blend the ingredients into a paste, but a blender or food processor would streamline the task. Even a rough chop of garlic, a mixing bowl, and a whisk would suffice as the meat or fish you place in garlic adobo will absorb all of the flavors regardless of whether the marinade is a paste or a chunky dressing.

This go-to marinade for any protein prepared in Cuban kitchens complements the entire spectrum of umami flavors. Marinade times differ depending on the cut of meat or fish you're cooking, with fish filets and poultry needing a mere hour or two, while heavier meats like pork, lamb, and beef require an overnight marinade.

Adobo is used to season pork shoulder for the famous roasted pork dish lechon asado, which is a key component in the Cuban sandwich. It's also the key ingredient for steak marinades in vaca frita and in Cuba's national dish: ropa vieja. You could also use it to marinate and or dry-season fried yuca, potatoes, or savory plantain tostones.