I often get asked, “Do you know how to cook adobo?” Adobo is the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, it seems like. It is a chicken or pork dish that is typically marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and whole peppercorns.
Recipes for adobo varies with each household. Every Filipino cook has their preferred way of making it, what goes into it and what it tastes like. Adobo recipes have regional differences as well. Some regions include coconut milk in theirs, cook theirs “dry” with just a little bit of sauce, with more oil or others like theirs saucy (like Mr Sweetie!).
Even the way my mom makes adobo is different from how I make mine based on how Mr Sweetie likes his. My mom would never imagine to put sugar in hers. American-style adobo is slightly sweet and makes use of a little bit of sugar. My mom also does not add bay leaf to her adobo but I found out that Filipino-Americans do, so I do now. My aunt in the Philippines does not put soy sauce in hers — just vinegar and lots of garlic. My Filipino-American brother-in-law who is an awesome cook includes oyster sauce in his recipe. Honestly, I do not like it and it is not traditional. ……You catch my drift. There are many different ways to cook and enjoy adobo, and honestly, not one right way. I think it is really based on personal preference and if this dish is part of your childhood, you probably prefer the taste that would remind you of traditions and family moments.
So, to answer the question above if I know how to cook adobo, my answer is “I do now!” Even though I dabbled in cooking while I was a young adult, I did not seriously really learn how to cook as an adult until about a decade ago. As a young adult in college, I still did not know how to cook.I cringe to remember creative ways of “inventing” top ramen recipes including putting mayonnaise and frozen peas in it. (Ugh!) I only got fed well whenever my parents were visiting or I visited the Philippines.
Let me tell you, though, with pride, that I am a pretty good cook now. And my chicken adobo is a sure thing. I have not cooked it in years until the about a year ago again because I never liked chicken adobo as a kid. However, Mr Sweetie kept on asking me to make it. I use muscle memory from watching significant people in my life prepare it in the kitchen over and over again when I was a child. The secret to making the best marinade for adobo is — “TASTE IT!” [Thank you, Tita (Auntie) Becky for this tip.] (Of course, you taste the marinade before you put the raw meat in it for food safety!)
Here is my recipe for Chicken Adobo that Mr Sweetie loves. I perfected it and have made it for him so many times.
FILIPINO CHICKEN ADOBO
- 3/4 cane vinegar or white vinegar* (You may also use red wine vinegar if cane vinegar is not available.)
- 3/4 water
- 1/4 cup regular or low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 head garlic, peeled and smash
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbps whole peppercorns or 1/4 ground black pepper
- 2 tps sugar (optional)
- Salt to taste (optional) *I never do but add if you prefer the dish to be saltier
- 1-2 tbps neutral oil such as canola or vegetable oil
- 4-6 chicken drumsticks (thighs or other bone-in chicken parts)
- Combine all the ingredients except chicken drumsticks and oil. (This is the time to taste the marinade.) The marinade should have a good balance of saltiness and tang from the soy sauce and vinegar. Put sugar in the marinade if using.
- Put chicken pieces in a bowl, Pour marinade into chicken turning chicken pieces over to make sure that chicken pieces are coated with marinade.
- Cover and marinate for 30 minutes to overnight in the fridge. (The longer you marinate the chicken, the stronger the flavors are going to be.)
- Transfer everything (chicken and marinade) in a pot.
- Bring to boil over medium heat.
- Lower heat to simmer after boiling. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes until the chicken pieces are cooked through but still moist and not dry.
OPTIONAL STEP (BUT I PROMISE YOU WOULD WANT TO DO THIS!)
- In a separate pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil .
- Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and garlic from the marinade. Set the marinade aside.
- Fry chicken pieces and garlic in oil until chicken pieces turn brown.
- Pour marinade back on the chicken and garlic and allow to sizzle for a minute.
- Serve with steamed rice.
- If you can find cane vinegar such as Philippine brand Datu Puti, please use it. It really makes a difference in creating a traditional tasting adobo.
- If you cannot find cane vinegar, I used red wine vinegar one time and it worked as well.
- A good adobo should not be too tangy or too salty. The challenge is to find the delicious balance between the taste of the vinegar, soy sauce and garlic.
- Sugar provides a little bit of sweetness to the dish. It should only be a hint of sweetness. Adobo should not be sweet at all. Putting sugar is completely optional as it is not traditional. (At least my family in the Philippines never put sugar in adobo but in the US, Filipinos do and I like it.)
- Chicken thigh, wings or pork can be used. Boned-in chicken parts are best. These might take longer to cook (up to 45 minutes).
- I have read recipes that instruct to fry chicken first before simmering. I prefer simmering first before frying. When frying first, the chicken is sealed from the flavors. Simmering first intensifies the umami flavors of the adobo then frying gives it the sizzling effect in the end. This is also how my aunts make theirs in the Philippines. (My mom does not fry the chicken at all and she makes the best adobo that people try to copy but cannot.) I like my adobo fried, though.
- Filipinos swear the adobo is even better the next day. It is true but Mr Sweetie often devours the entire pot in one seating!
- Traditional adobo recipe uses whole black peppercorns. Mr Sweetie does not like biting into them so I use ground black pepper instead.