Carne Adovada (New Mexico-Style Pork With Red Chiles) Recipe

Similar to chile con carne, carne adovada is a New Mexico dish offering chunks of pork shoulder braised in a base made with an assortment of chiles.

A small bowl of carne adovada with cilantro and tortillas next to it.
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Why This Recipe Works

  • Searing meat on only one side prior to simmering creates flavor, but allows the pork to retain its moisture.
  • Chile flavor infuses the entire dish by toasting dried chiles, simmering in liquid, then blending into a sauce.
  • While there's no single way to make New Mexican carne adovada, most recipes are a riff on pork simmered in a chile sauce with a few spices and aromatics. Here, the flavor is amped up with a few untraditional ingredients: raisins, fish sauce, and orange juice concentrate.

Does anyone else get goosebumps thinking about the last bowl of really good chili they had? Chili season is something I look forward to every year. That time when even as a supposed-to-love-vegetables-and-really-does-but-sometimes-wants-huge-bowls-of-meat coastal-dweller you're finally allowed to hunker down in front of what's essentially a big bowl of spoon-tender meat and dig right in without anyone giving you a second glance, a reproachful look at your gluttony.

And while Texas-style chili con carne鈥攃hili with big hunks of tender beef simmered in a tomato and bean-free sauce鈥攎ay be more well-known, carne adovada鈥攊ts New Mexican pork-based cousin鈥攊s equally delicious.

I've never understood why it doesn't get as much recognition as chili con carne. Perhaps its because beef is so in-your-face brash and bold, while pork requires a little more subtlety, a little more patience to get it right, to understand it. When you finally crack it; when you finally have a taste that makes you go聽oh... I get it, it can be every bit as soul-satisfying and delicious.

Here's how it's done.

A Brief Word on Nomenclature: Adovada vs. Adobada

I know some folks are already champing at the bit, ready to jump on me for spelling the dish聽"adovada"聽instead of聽"adobada." Well, allow myself to explain myself.

The New Mexican dish carne adovada is based off of a Mexican cooking process called聽adobada聽(or sometimes聽enchilada) which is a general term that means to cook something in an adobo sauce鈥攁 sauce made with chiles, flavored with a few aromatics and vinegar. Mexican聽carne adobada聽can come in all shapes in sizes from simmered chunks to shreds.

New Mexican-style聽carne adovada, on the other hand, is a defined dish consisting of chunks of pork simmered in a chile-based stew. Got it? Good. Let's get into the kitchen.

How to Brown Meat and Retain Moisture

The first step on our path to flavor country is the meat. I braised a few big pots of pork using a simple working recipe of pork stewed with powdered dried chile (I used a mix of ancho and pasilla), onions, garlic, and chicken stock, treating the meat in a number of different ways to determine what worked best.

A raw bone-in pork shoulder roast on a white cutting board with a chef's knife.

Now, traditional wisdom will tell you that you ought to brown your meat as deeply as possible. Browning, also known as the聽Maillard reaction,聽is a complex series of chemical reactions that occur when meat (or other protein-containing foods such as bread) is subjected to high heat. As meat browns, molecules rapidly break down and recombine in a cascade of reactions that produce hundreds of end products, adding complexity and depth of flavor.

An enamel cast-iron Dutch oven with pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer on the bottom of the pot

But here's the thing: browning doesn't occur at any appreciable rate until well above the 300掳F mark. Meanwhile, it's not聽possible聽to raise your meat past 212掳F (the boiling point of water) until most of its surface moisture has been evaporated. Water is like a built-in temperature regulator that prevents browning.

How do you solve this problem?

The first step is to get rid of the surface moisture鈥攖he liquid clinging to the outside of the meat. This is easy enough, and is something you should do聽any聽time you sear meat:

Patting chunks of raw pork dry with paper towels to remove surface moisture.

But this doesn't solve the problem of the moisture that resides just under the surface, which is only released once the meat hits the pan and its muscle fibers start contracting, expelling liquid.

Some recipes will have you brown the meat in batches, reheating the pot well in between each one. The idea is that this leaves plenty of space for liquid to evaporate, and without too much meat in the pan, it's able to retain and regain heat faster, leading to a deeper sear.

This is all true. What those recipes聽don't聽tell you is that聽there's an inverse relationship between quality of sear聽(that is, how brown a given surface on a piece of meat gets),聽and quality of texture聽(that is, how moist and tender the meat is after cooking). The browner it gets, the tougher and dryer it becomes.

A chunk of braised pork from carne adovada, torn open with a fork to show the meat fibers inside.

There's a misconception that moist cooking techniques鈥攂raising, simmering, etc.鈥攚ill lead to moist end results when in fact, a simmered or braised piece of meat will lose nearly as much moisture as one that is roasted in the dry heat of an oven. That's because as muscle fibers heat up鈥攚hether that heat is transmitted through the air or a liquid鈥攖hey contract, squeezing out moisture. And, just like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube, once that liquid is squeezed out, it's not easy to get it back in.

Chunks of pork browning inside an enamel cast iron Dutch oven.

So my two conflicting goals: develop flavor via browning and retain moisture by聽not聽browning.

I tried a number of solutions鈥攂rowning meat less, not browning at all, adding browned vegetables instead of meat, browning via roasting rather than searing鈥攂ut the best turned out to be the simplest: just don't brown every surface.

Instead, get some oil ripping hot in a Dutch oven (until it's lightly smoking), dump in all the meat, and let it sit there until聽just聽the bottom side is deeply seared.

The temptation to move it around is great. Those little pieces of pork sizzle as they hit the pot, begging to be moved around, to expose them equally to the hot surface. Do not give in. Stirring will lead to excessive cooling, which leads to steamed meat instead of browned meat.

Once one side is well-browned, that's all it takes鈥攖hose water-soluble products of the Maillard reaction will dissolve in the cooking liquid, spreading flavor throughout the stew. Meanwhile,聽the pork will stay nice and moist as it cooks. Win-win-win.

What Size of Meat Is Best for Chili and Stew?

Next question: How big should I cut my meat?

You'd聽think聽using smaller cuts of meat would help stew cook faster, just like a thinner steak will cook faster than a thicker one.

Pork shoulder cut into different size chunks, from 1 pound to a half an inch on a wood cutting board, arranged from largest to smallest

After braising meat cut in different sizes, from one-pound hunks to 1/2-inch square pieces, I found the difference in cooking time was marginal. Even the smallest piece still took 1 hour 45 minutes to fully tenderize, while big chunks were soft in a little over 2 hours.

A chunk of pork cooked as carne adovada, torn in half to expose the meat fibers inside.

Why's that? It's because braising is a slow-cooking process; It's all about converting tough connective tissue (mainly聽collagen) into smooth, unctuous gelatin. This is a process that's聽temperature聽and聽time聽dependent. Whether you've got a ton of collagen or just a few ounces, they'll convert to gelatin at the same basic rate at the right temperature.

Essentially, once both sizes of meat have achieved the same internal temperature, they take the same amount of time to cook. In a simmering stew, that temperature is about 180掳F. A small piece of meat will be there within a matter of moments鈥攃ollagen starts transforming nearly instantly鈥攁 larger hunk takes a little longer, hence the 20-minute increase in cooking time.


To get the best texture and flavor, I found pieces in the middle range鈥攃ut to about 2-inches per side鈥攈ad the best contrast between juicy tender center and sauce-coated exterior.

Before we go on, I'd like to make an important note:聽DO NOT OVERCOOK YOUR PORK. There's a certain romance associated with saying "I cooked this for 12 hours!" and of course, low and slow is good, but there's a limit to how much meat should stew. You want to cook it聽until it's just done so that it retains maximum juiciness. Longer is NOT always better.

How to Use Dried Chiles

Now we get to the real meat of the dish, which, ironically, is not the meat at all.聽It's the chiles.

To start with, I knew from my previous adventures in chili that the best way to incorporate dried chiles into a dish is to toast, simmer in liquid, then puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

Dried chiles simmering in water in a pot.

The most traditional New Mexican recipes for the dish are simple: Get yourself some freshly dried New Mexican chiles, toast and grind (or in this case simmer) them, brown some pork, then brown some onions and garlic...

Onions caramelizing in the bottom of an enamel cast iron Dutch oven.

...season with a few spices if desired (some cumin and Mexican oregano are nice) before adding your chile liquid...

Carmelized onions mixed with pureed dried chiles in an enamel cast iron Dutch oven.

...return pork to the pot and add a couple bay leaves...

An enamel cast iron Dutch oven with ingredients for carne adovada.

...simmer, simmer, simmer...

A close up of carne adovada cooking in an enamel cast iron Dutch oven. A wooden spoon is lifting up some pork and a bay leaf.

...and simmer some more, until...

Stirring carne adovada in a pot with a wooden spoon; the spoon is lifting up a piece of cooked pork that's been torn in half

...your pork is fall-apart tender a couple hours later.

And that's precisely what I did. The results were... fine. The meat was tender and moist, but the sauce lacked real brightness and depth.

A good deal of that has to do with the fact that frankly, sometimes the dried chiles you find aren't always spectacular. A great dried chile should not be聽too聽dry. It should have supple, bendable skin. Most of the chiles I find are dried to the point of being crisp, snapping when bent.

A great dried chile should have a depth of flavor that doesn't just encompass heat, but also has other complex notes. Depending on the type of chile, there may be a touch of acidity or a raisin-like richness. Many of the chiles I find in my local supermarket taste a little dry and dusty.

Mixing and matching various types of chiles adds depth鈥擨 usually go for a mix of two or more, mixing rich deep chiles like ancho with brighter chiles like pasilla鈥攁nd this flavor may be good enough for a really hearty beef-based chili like my Texas Chili Con Carne, but fatty pork meat demands a brighter, sweeter flavor to bring out its best, something that can't be accomplished with my crummy New York supermarket chiles alone.

A Few Ways to Add Flavor to Carne Adovada

So if a rich fruitiness and a hint of raisin-like sweetness is what I'm after, I figured, why not take the logical step?聽Just add some raisins.

A small pile of raisins on a wood cutting board.

I added raisins to the simmering chiles along with a couple of canned chipotle peppers (another good source of rich chile flavor, along with a hint of smoke) before blending them together. It worked like a charm, creating a sauce that tasted only of extra-flavorful chiles; the raisins added depth, but not even the super-est of supertasters would be able to say that they were in there. I wish more of life's problems could be solved with raisins.

I had the rich depth I was looking for; Now I needed to add acidity and sweetness. Oranges are a natural pair with chiles鈥攖hey contain many of the same flavor compounds鈥攕o I tried adding in a variety of forms: orange juice (both fresh squeezed and bottled), and whole orange halves simmered with the stew (both regular navel oranges and sour Valencia oranges). They all improved the dish, but the real winner was a shocker:

A container of frozen orange juice concentrate

Frozen orange juice concentrate. Yes, really.聽Even when I added an equivalent amount of聽real聽orange juice, the versions made with concentrate simply had better flavor. Perhaps because the fresh orange juice version tasted聽too much聽like orange, whereas a spoonful of concentrate gave the final sauce a hint of sweet brightness, but no overtly orange-y flavor.

This may be the one time you聽don't聽want your orange juice to have a strong orange flavor.

With my flavor nearly there, all it took was a dash of vinegar and a couple tablespoons of Vietnamese fish sauce to tie the whole dish together.

A bottle of Vietnamese fish sauce.

Fish sauce may seem like an odd pairing for New Mexican-based flavors, but it's not as odd as you might think. Fish sauce is a powerful source of both glutamates and inosinates, two classes of natural chemical compounds that greatly enhance our perception of savoriness. A dash of it in pretty much聽any聽meat-based stew will make your stew taste more meaty, without adding any fishiness.

And there you've got it.聽Rich, bright, flavorful, hot, and meaty,聽with perfectly juicy, spoon-tender hunks of pork just waiting to fall apart under your teeth.


Click Play to Learn How to Make Tasty Carne Adovada

December 2012

Recipe Details

Carne Adovada (New Mexico-Style Pork With Red Chiles) Recipe

Prep 5 mins
Cook 3 hrs
Active 45 mins
Total 3 hrs 5 mins
Serves 6 to 8 servings

Similar to chile con carne, carne adovada is a New Mexico dish offering chunks of pork shoulder braised in a base made with an assortment of chiles.


  • 4 whole dried ancho chiles, seeds and stems removed

  • 4 whole dried pasilla chiles, seeds and stems removed

  • 1 quart (32 ounces) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock

  • 1/2 cup raisins

  • 1 cup frozen orange juice concentrate

  • 3 whole chipotle chiles canned in adobo

  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

  • 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2-inch thick cubes

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

  • 6 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 3 bay leaves

  • Kosher salt

  • Corn tortillas, cilantro, diced onions, lime wedges, and queso fresco for serving (optional)


  1. Add dried chiles to large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or stock pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until slightly darkened with intense, roasted aroma, 2 to 5 minutes. Do not allow to smoke. Add chicken stock, raisins, orange juice concentrate, chipotles in adobo, white vinegar, and fish sauce. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a bare simmer, and let cook until chiles are totally softened, about 15 minutes. Blend into a smooth puree using an immersion blender or by transferring to a countertop blender. Set aside.

  2. Carefully pat pork cubes dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Heat vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over high heat until smoking. Add pork all at once and spread evenly over bottom surface. (It's ok if not all the pork is touching the bottom or if the pan is crowded.) Cook without moving until bottom surface is well browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer pork to a cutting board and set aside. Add onions and garlic to Dutch oven and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add oregano and cumin and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

  3. Add chile mixture to Dutch oven and stir to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom. Add bay leaves along with the pork and any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil then reduce to a bare simmer. Cover, leaving lid slightly ajar, and cook, stirring occasionally until pork chunks break apart when you apply pressure with a spoon, about 2 hours.

  4. Sauce should be thick, with an almost ketchup-like consistency. If too thin, increase heat to a light simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced to the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt.

  5. Serve pork with corn tortillas, cilantro, diced onions, lime wedges, and queso fresco. Pork can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Special Equipment

Large Dutch oven, immersion blender or blender

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
306 Calories
15g Fat
27g Carbs
17g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 306
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 15g 19%
Saturated Fat 4g 22%
Cholesterol 49mg 16%
Sodium 980mg 43%
Total Carbohydrate 27g 10%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 17g
Protein 17g
Vitamin C 52mg 258%
Calcium 83mg 6%
Iron 3mg 16%
Potassium 760mg 16%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)