I have a confession to make. As much as I love to cook and pride myself at my willingness to make as many different foods as I can from scratch, there was one that always eluded me, and it just so happens to be the most iconic dish from the Philippines–the one that no self-respecting Filipino would ever admit to not knowing how to cook: adobo.
Before you judge me, let me just say in my defense that it may seem simple, but it is deceptively so. While it may have only six ingredients to it, the key to making a good adobo (and because I grew up with the world’s best adobo–my mother’s–I have pretty high standards for what I consider good adobo) is the perfect balance between the vinegar and the soy sauce. Too much vinegar and it’s too sour; too much soy sauce, and it’s too salty. Too much of both, and your marinade becomes way too intense, rendering the dish inedible (let’s just say I learned this the hard way); too little of either, and you’ve got, well, very little flavor.
Up until now, I’ve been haunted by inability to produce a top-notch adobo–certainly one that would meet the very high standards I’ve come to expect, as a result of eating my mom’s. But I was determined to master this dish once and for all, and, armed with my brand new Le Creuset dutch oven, which had yet to be christened, I set out to do this very thing earlier this week.
Well, I am proud to say that the adobo did, in fact, turn out to be a success. In fact, when my mother did the very first taste test, she declared it a winner–and I don’t think I could possibly ask for a better seal of approval.
I owe it all to my beloved Le Creuset.
Chicken Adobo (adapted from a family recipe, serves 4)
- 1 lb of chicken thighs (bone-in is ideal, but I used boneless, skinless thighs because it was what I had handy; you can also substitute or combine with pork shoulder/butt)
- 5 cloves of garlic (this is one that’s easily adjusted to your personal taste; I personally love garlic, so I loaded up on this)
- 1/2 cup white vinegar (for maximum authenticity, look for the Datu Puti brand of Filipino vinegar, found in the ethnic aisle of your grocery store)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (I used low sodium, simply because I prefer it)
- 1/2 cup water or chicken broth (optional)
- 1 tsp of freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tablespoon canola oil
- Sea salt and ground black pepper for seasoning the chicken
Take 2 cloves of garlic and slice into thin slices, then set aside.
Take the other 3 cloves and press with a garlic press, and put in a bowl with the soy sauce, vinegar, and pepper. It’s crucial at this point to taste the mixture. Personal taste preference will be your best guide here; some people prefer more acidity, while others prefer more saltiness, but the rule of thumb is to start with a 2:1 ratio of vinegar to soy sauce. If you feel that the balance is off, start adjusting with small amounts of either vinegar or soy sauce until you achieve the balance you’re looking for.
In in the meantime, in a enamel-coated dutch oven (you can also use a large stock pot, but the dutch oven is ideal to get the best browning/caramelization for the chicken), heat the oil. Rinse and pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper (go light on the salt; you’ll be using soy sauce in the dish, so you don’t need much). Add the garlic slices and as soon as the slices turn brown, take them out of the dutch oven. At this point, you’re just trying to infuse the oil with the garlic flavor, but you don’t want the garlic to burn. Don’t throw away the garlic slices, though; you’ll use them later for the garnish.
Next, start browning the chicken. Make sure to do a few pieces at a time so the chicken doesn’t end up steaming and you get a nice, brown crust on the chicken. Once all of the chicken has browned, add the soy sauce vinegar mixture and the bay leaf, then bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, lower the heat to low-medium and cover. Let simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened. At about 30 minutes, check to see if the sauce has reduced. If it looks to have reduced by a lot, start adding the water (or chicken broth, for extra flavor) a little bit at a time. If you prefer a saucier adobo, you could end up using the entire 1/2 cup of water (or chicken broth), but if you prefer a drier adobo, you can opt not to use any of the water at all.
Once the chicken is cooked, heat up a little bit of oil in a nonstick pan. Now you’ll be browning the chicken a second time, to get even more caramelization going. This second browning is key to getting good flavor–this is the trick I learned from my mom and my grandmother! As before, brown the chicken a few pieces at a time, then put back into the soy sauce vinegar mixture and top with the browned garlic slices for garnish.
Serve with steamed rice (I like brown rice, but most Filipinos prefer plain white rice).
And there it is… simple, once you get the technique down and have the right equipment :). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to include a picture because… well… I’ve already eaten most of the adobo I made :). But now that I’ve been able to master it, I shall be making more, and making it often–so I will definitely be posting pics the next time I make it!