Three Chile Marinade for Chicken and Beef

You guys are going to go bananas for this three chile marinade, which could not be more perfect for chicken and skirt steak tacos.  It’s also wonderful on a whole chicken or a beef tenderloin.  This recipe is tailor made for game days but it really hits the spot any night of the week.  It’s one of those things I make again and again and again because it gets raves every time.

The key ingredients in this magical marinade are freshly squeezed orange juice, apple cider vinegar and dried chile peppers.  I use three varieties of chiles – cascabel chiles, chiles de arbol and New Mexico red chiles.  Just follow the links to Amazon, yes, Amazon, where you can pop those little suckers in your cart.  Amazon carries the same brand of chiles that I find at my local Whole Foods, which often has New Mexico red chiles but not cascabels or chiles de arbol.


It’s natural to be uncomfortable with unfamiliar ingredients but hear me out.  Dried chiles are a great thing to keep in your pantry.  They add loads of flavor to so many dishes – salsas, sauces, soups, you name it – and they have a really long shelf life.  I really want to emphasize the flavor aspect because that’s what it’s all about.  This is not about heat.  This is a deeply satisfying sweet smokiness.  This is not too spicy for my two year old (or my husband who hails from Cleveland ;).

If you still want a simple substitute for the whole chiles, I get it.  You can substitute a combo of chipotle powder (available at many Whole Foods) and regular chili powder; see the notes of the recipe for details. 

Just promise me you’ll make this.  I promise you won’t be sorry! 

Three Chile Marinade for Chicken and Beef Fajitas
Write a review
  1. 3 chile de arbol peppers (*substitution option in notes*)
  2. 2 chile cascabel peppers (*substitution option in notes*)
  3. 1 New Mexico red chile pepper (*substitution option in notes*)
  4. 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
  5. 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  6. 1 cup chopped onion
  7. 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  8. 2 cloves garlic
  9. 1 teaspoon salt (plus more for cooking the meat)
  10. 1 teaspoon cumin
  11. 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  12. (Makes enough marinade for three pounds of meat)
  1. Put the whole chiles in a small dry saucepan over medium-high heat. Give the chiles a bit of a stir (or flip them with tongs) as they heat up so that they heat evenly. Cook the chiles until they become fragrant and just start to get some darker spots. Don't let the chiles blacken. They will start to darken quickly so watch them!
  2. When the chiles start to get spots, add enough hot tap water to the pan so that the chiles are floating (about 2 inches deep is fine). Place the saucepan back on the hot burner. Cover and turn off the heat. Let the chiles soften in the hot water for 15 minutes.
  3. While the chiles are softening, place all of the other ingredients in a high speed blender.
  4. When your 15 minutes is up, transfer the chiles to a cutting board. Discard the liquid. Remove the stems, ribs and seeds from the chiles. For the New Mexico and arbol chiles, the easiest way to do this is to cut the stem off of the top and then slide a sharp knife down one side of the chile pepper. The ribs and seeds are easy to remove after that. For the round cascabel chiles, you can simply pull the stem out. Then break the cascabel chile open a bit and scoop the ribs and seeds out with your finger.
  5. Add the chiles to the blender. Puree all of the ingredients until smooth.
  6. To prepare your chicken and/or beef: Marinate your chicken and or beef for at least four hours (to overnight). Before cooking, remove your meat from the marinade and pat the meat dry on both sides. Salt both sides of the the meat and cook the way you normally would. Here in the city, I generally throw it on a grill pan but when I have the choice, I love a real grill. Ovens work, too!
  1. Important: Consider using rubber gloves if you aren't used to handling chile peppers. If you don't use gloves (I don't but I have learned to be careful the hard way), wash your hands extremely thoroughly after handling the chiles. Avoid touching your eyes with your hands, even after a good wash.
  2. While these chiles pack a punch on their own, keep in mind that this is a marinade. The cooked chicken or beef will not be overly spicy.
  3. Substitutions: This marinade the best when you use all three kinds of the dried chiles. However, you can substitute 2 teaspoons of chipotle powder and 1 tablespoon of regular chili powder in place of the three kinds of the dried chiles; your chicken and beef will still be awesome!
Kitchen Below Canal
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail to someone