This is just one of those recipes that came to me in the middle of doing something else, that is completely unrelated, like weeding. Surely, my mind was elsewhere and not focused on what I needed to accomplish. Sometimes food ideas and inspiration just grow out of me at the most unexpected times. Clearly, I must have been subconsciously dreaming of the adobo sauce I made from one of my favorite Mexican food resources, Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez. It was so much easier than I expected and now I have a bowlful of this delicious smoky chili purée. What to make? Out of the blue, my mind forced me to stop whatever I was doing and pushed forward an idea for grilled chicken kebabs marinated in a yogurt adobo sauce.
Here is my dream come to reality with a recipe for grilled chicken kebabs made using an adobo sauce and yogurt marinade, just because yogurt makes everything so tender, and mixed in with well-seasoned thick pieces of chicken thighs. The chicken kebabs cook quickly over a hot grill and taste remarkable with something fruity, crispy and sweet, like fresh corn and mango avocado salsa.
Trying Something New
I always hesitate when I make a new recipe with dried chili peppers because I never know how hot it will taste. But the more I cook with fresh and dried chilies, the more familiar I get with their multi-dimensional flavors. Every cuisine appears to have a sauce (or two) made with hot chilies and spices that are quite addictive.
Adobo sauce is another one of the great sauces with a pleasing smoky dried chili flavor mixed with vinegar and other spices. It is that acid chili pepper combo that just tastes so amazing and keeps me coming back for more. Adobo is not as acidic as Asian chili sauces like Sriracha. It is much subtler with the chilies as the more prominent taste.
To make your own adobo sauce, use dried guajillo and/or ancho chilies if you can find them. They are not as hot as other dried chilies and are the traditional chilies used in adobo sauce. These chilies have mild heat with smoky and fruity flavors. Making the sauce is not complicated. Toast then soak the chili peppers, then purée the chilies, garlic, herbs, and apple cider vinegar until smooth. That’s it. The most difficult part of making the sauce is sourcing the dried chilies. You can find them at well-stocked grocery stores or Mexican markets. Another bonus with making adobo sauce is, you can make it ahead and keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Or, you can freeze adobo sauce in an airtight container for one month.
I noticed this recipe from Roberto Santibañez is a basic adobo sauce and uses significantly less vinegar than other adobo sauce recipes I’ve read. Also, some adobo sauces include spices like cinnamon and cloves or paprika. You can play around with the ingredients just keep in mind that the chilies are the prominent flavor and the seasonings are in the background.
Store bought Adobo Sauce
However, do not let the extra step of making the adobo sauce deter you from making grilled adobo chicken kebabs. You can make a pseudo adobo sauce with canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce. If you can find store-bought adobo sauce all the better. Chipotle chilies are spicier and smokier than guajillo or ancho chilies, so the sauce will taste different, but it is an easy substitute. Just purée the chipotle chilies with the adobo sauce using as much of the adobo sauce as possible. You may not need all of the chipotle chilies to make a half cup of sauce. Most importantly, do not confuse adobo seasoning with adobo sauce. They are not the same thing.
Adobo Chicken Kebabs
What I love about the adobo chicken kebabs is they are perfect for many meals. Eat the adobo chicken kebabs hot off the grill with a fruit salsa like my recipe for Mango Avocado Salsa. They also taste great paired with something creamy like Mexican Crema, yogurt sauce or crème fraîche. Anything Goes Potato Salad is another perfect side dish with the sweet fresh corn and bright fresh vegetables to contrast with the smoky chili flavored chicken. Also, try Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad, with grilled adobo chicken kebabs. The lemon cream dressing, jalapeño peppers, and capers will compliment the adobo along with the fresh mozzarella and ripe heirloom tomatoes.
Mix It Up
To mix things up, make fajitas with Adobo chicken kebabs with poblano rajas, sautéed strips of poblano peppers and white onions, instead of bell peppers. Using my recipe (linked above) for creamy poblano sauce, follow the instructions up to the step before you process the vegetables into the creamy sauce.
Adobo yogurt marinade is perfect for any type of chicken either grilled or roasted. Try it with a spatchcock chicken or other bone-in chicken pieces, either grilled or roasted. You can marinate bone-in chicken for a longer time than boneless chicken, but not more than 8 hours. Chicken gets mushy if marinated for too long.
Grilled Adobo Chicken Kebabs
Also, adobo sauce tastes delicious with shrimp or fish so you should have no problem using up the sauce. If you do not want to make the adobo sauce, buy a 7 oz can of chipotle chilis in adobo sauce and purée until smooth. Try to add as much adobo sauce into your purée by scraping it off the chilis. You may not need all the chipotles. This sauce may be spicier and smokier than if you made the adobo from scratch.
Adobo sauce recipe is from Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez
Adobo Chicken Kebabs
- 2 lbs (1 k) boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 tsp (3 g) Kosher salt
- 1 tsp (1 g) granulated garlic
- 1 tsp (1 g) dried onion
- 1 ½ tsp (2 g) Mexican oregano or Italian oregano
- 1 tsp (less than a gram) ground coriander
- A few rounds of black pepper
- ½ cup (125 ml) plain yogurt or buttermilk (see note)
- ½ cup (125 ml) adobo sauce or ½ cup (125 ml) of chipotle chilies in adobo sauce puréed
- 1 tsp (5 ml) apple cider vinegar or more to taste
- Vegetable oil for the grill
Adobo Sauce from Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez
- 3 ounces (75 g) guajillo chilies about 12
- ¾ cup (185 ml) water plus water for soaking the chilies
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 ½ tsp (22.5 ml) apple cider vinegar
- 1 ½ tsp (4.5 g) Kosher salt
- ¾ tsp (4 g) granulated sugar
- Rounded ¼ tsp of ground cumin
- 9 inch 23 cm bamboo skewers or metal skewers for the kebabs
For the chicken
Cut the chicken thighs up into 1 ½ inch chunks.
Place the cut up chicken thighs in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle in the Kosher salt, dried garlic, dried onion, oregano, ground coriander and black pepper. Mix the spices in the chicken turning the chicken pieces over with your hands until the spices are evenly mixed. Set aside on the counter.
In a small bowl mix together the yogurt, adobo sauce, and apple cider vinegar. Mix until smooth and well incorporated.
Pour the yogurt adobo sauce into the bowl with the chicken and thoroughly mix until the chicken is evenly coated with the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate for two hours or up to 6 hours.
30 minutes before you want to start cooking your kebabs, soak the bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.
Take your bowl of chicken out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you want to start grilling to bring the chicken up to room temperature.
When the skewers are sufficiently soaked, thread the chicken pieces on the skewers. I fit 6 pieces of chicken on each skewer. Be careful not to pack the chicken in too tight and therefore will take longer to cook. Set the chicken kebabs on a tray when done.
In the meantime, get your grill ready. Prepare your gas or charcoal grill for a medium-hot fire.
Grill the Kebabs
When the coals and grill grate are nice and hot, add some oil to a wad of paper towels. Hold onto your paper towel wad with long barbecue tongs and rub oil over the hot grill grate.
Place the kebabs on a diagonal over the grate directly over the heat source. Grill the kebabs for 3 minutes then turn them over to the other side. Grill that side for 3 minutes. Continue cooking the chicken kebabs turning them over every 2 minutes until they are done, the internal temperature is 165°F (74°C). You might need to sacrifice one piece of chicken and cut it open to see if it is done. The total cooking time should be around 8 – 12 minutes depending on how hot your grill is.
If the chicken kebabs are getting too charred, move them over to the side of the grill not directly over the coals or heat source.
When done, place the kebabs on a tray and cover with foil to rest for 5 minutes.
Serve hot, warm or room temperature.
Prepare your chilies. Wipe the chiles clean and remove the stems. Slice each chili open down the side and remove the seeds and the veins as best you can.
Heat a heavy-duty skillet or griddle to medium-low heat. (I used a non-stick electric griddle set at 325 - 350°F, (173°-176°C). It was great to fit all the chilies on the griddle in one fell swoop.) Toast the chilies turning them over until they slightly change color, soften and become fragrant About one minute. While you are toasting the chilies, press down on them to get as much of the surface area touching the hot surface.
Add the toasted chilis to a bowl filled with enough cold water to cover the chilies for 30 minutes. Remove the chilies from the water and place them in a bowl of a blender or food processor. Discard the soaking water.
Add ¾ cup of fresh water to the processor with the chilies, the garlic, apple cider vinegar, kosher salt, sugar, and cumin. Blend until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add more water to thin the purée as needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If you want a smooth and silky purée, press the adobo through a fine mesh strainer fitted over a bowl.
Makes 1 ½ cups (375 ml) of adobo sauce
You want to use plain yogurt, not Greek yogurt for the marinade. It is best if the marinade is not too thick. If Greek yogurt is all you have then thin it out with some milk or buttermilk. You can also substitute buttermilk for the yogurt.
There is enough marinade for 3 pounds of chicken if you need to cook for a larger crowd. There is no need to make more marinade for the additional pound.
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