Adobo is the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, with countless versions throughout our over 7,100 islands. The beauty of the adobo is that one can cook this dish anywhere. Its ingredients are commonly available.
The classic Filipino chicken adobo is a stew that is cooked either by braising or simmering. Its tangy flavors come from the basic ingredients of garlic, vinegar, crushed peppercorns, soy sauce, broth, bay leaves, and a dash of salt. Sometimes, pork belly chunks can be added with the chicken, which elevates the dish to an even more superb level.
Mom always said that the classic adobo, however it was cooked, is a dish one could make anywhere in the world. It was no wonder my grandmother Nena found it easy to cook adobo while traveling in Paris in the 1920s, using the basic ingredients of garlic and vinegar.
Many Adobos, One Concept
Adobo is a cooking technique. The term comes from the Spanish word ‘adobar’, meaning to marinate, according to Filipino chef Claude Tayag in The Adobo Chronicles cookbook.
Adobo focuses on its protein ingredients, often a combination of chicken and pork, braised in a mixture of salty-savory and souring agents, flavored with strong aromatics.
There are many versions of adobo, depending on each province in the Philippines. There is adobo that is swirling in thick, soupy gravy, while there’s adobo that’s crisp, dry, and crunchy. There is adobo that is cooked with coconut milk. There is adobo cooked with annatto (achuete), or turmeric, or else tomatoes. There is adobo that is colorless, yet flavorful with only vinegar and garlic. There is also the most recognizable adobo, the one splashed with soy sauce, to give it that golden, roast appeal. I’ve tasted adobo cooked in seven kinds of vinegars, or even with pineapple or bananas.
I am sharing the very first adobo recipe I learned, when I was practically still a child.
How I Make My Adobo
Some adobos start with browning the meat in oil for a few minutes, then continuing cooking it in a long, slow simmer. I was taught a simpler method. I marinate and then simmer a whole chicken, cut-up, in the basic ingredients, until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced to a thick gravy. Then, I pan-fry the chicken to a crisp, and pour the sauce over it.
The Best Adobo Is Mom’s Adobo
And then there is Mom’s. No one can argue that your mother’s adobo is the best. It’s the one that’s been taught to you, the recipe that’s been passed around your family for generations, and the one you grew up enjoying every Sunday dinner. Mom’s adobo is the one that reminds you of a snapshot of home, which evokes the memories of family meals embedded in one’s heart.
My family’s recipe goes back to my grandmother’s time, and her own mother from the turn of the century. It became my Mom’s recipe, which she cooked every week, using solely vinegar and garlic. Later on, this recipe evolved to the addition of a few tablespoons of toyo (soy sauce), and this version was always in the care package Mom sent me by the time I was in college. I did the same for my sons. Nowadays, this is the timeless recipe I cook for our family supper.
At the end of the day, wherever you are, once the adobo is cooked, and you inhale the robust garlic-vinegar aromas that float around, you know you are home.
Choosing Vinegar for Adobo
A good adobo tastes better even days after. Vinegar is one of the key ingredients. I used cider vinegar, which has the similar tartness as palm vinegar, or white distilled vinegar, which are also good options. To Filipinos, the vinegar depends on geographical location. It can range from cane vinegar, palm vinegar, or white vinegar.
Adobo needs to be refrigerated, though it was originally created as a vinegar-based dish, centuries ago, to withstand non-refrigeration. My Mom said that this was a dish that traveled well, and did not spoil easily, and thus, adobo was often our family picnic fare at the beach, or came with us on our long car trips from our home in the province to the city.
Let’s Hear It for Leftover Adobo
We love adobo leftovers. I shred the meat to tiny slivers, deep fry in hot oil till crisp, and serve it with sinangag (garlic fried rice). Or else, as sandwich filling, in between hoagies, dinner rolls, or the Filipino pan de sal, nestled between cucumber and tomato slices. The latter is a favorite at cocktail parties.
Savory Chicken Stews
- Easy Chicken Yassa
- Guyanese Chicken Curry
- Moroccan Chicken With Lemon and Olives
- Arroz con Pollo
Marinate the chicken:
In a large bowl, combine the chicken pieces with the vinegar, soy sauce, peppercorns, bay leaves, and garlic. Keep marinated chicken and liquid in a resealable plastic bag or a non-reactive covered container. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to overnight.
Begin cooking the adobo:
Combine the chicken and its marinade with the broth or water in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add a pinch of salt. Do not stir and do not cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Lower the heat and simmer:
When the liquid boils, lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. You can now stir the ingredients, if needed. Simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced by half and the chicken registers at least 165° F on an instant-read thermometer. Keep an eye on the adobo so that the meat doesn’t burn and the liquid does not totally evaporate. Lower heat if the pot has become too hot.
Remove the chicken from the pot:
Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken pieces and drain well on paper towels. Remove the garlic and pat dry as well. If you like, discard the bay leaves and whole peppercorns from the sauce (don’t worry about it too much). Set the sauce aside, off the heat.
Fry the chicken:
In a wide saucepan or deep skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When oil ripples (about 350 F if using a thermometer), add the garlic and fry for 1-2 minutes. Do not let the garlic burn or it affects the outcome of the adobo flavor. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Then, to the same oil, add the chicken pieces one at a time and fry the chicken until the skin is crisp and dark brown, about 5 minutes per side. If your pan is too small to fit all the chicken at once without crowding, do this in two batches.
Drain the chicken briefly on paper towels to absorb the excess grease.
Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with more salt, if needed.
Place the chicken on a rimmed serving platter. Sprinkle the fried garlic all over. Pour the remaining adobo sauce over the fried pieces.
Serve warm with steamed rice.
This chicken adobo can be cooked ahead, and actually tastes better a day or two after. Frozen, adobo can last up to 2 months.
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