America’s Test Kitchen, Holy Snafu!

America's Test Kitchen Best Recipes and Reviews 2013

America’s Test Kitchen Best Recipes and Reviews 2013

I was perusing the latest issue out from America’s Test Kitchen‘s Best Recipes and Reviews 2013, when I came upon page 67, which laid out the Filipino Chicken Adobo.  I was elated! Wow!  Yes!  Our cuisine has finally arrived.  No more of the comments like, “Are you an offshoot of Chinese or Indonesian food?  No, but you have Kaldereta and Cocido….”  We are now recognized as a bona-fide independent unique cultural Asian cuisine.  I have been dreaming this day would come since the 90’s.

I have always been a fan of Cooks’ Illustrated.  It’s been around for a long time. My mother has always been a great fan and she used to buy us compilations of their issues.  I have relied on them for serious, well-thought out and very methodical discussions and revelations.

Filipino Chicken Adobo, page 67 on America's Test Kitchen Best of Issue 2013

Filipino Chicken Adobo, page 67 on America’s Test Kitchen Best of Issue 2013

However, as I sat down in my kitchen to read through the discussion and the subsequent recipe, I caught myself in a disappointed cloud.  The recipe had the following problems: coconut milk and cider vinegar.  I can agree in principle about the soy sauce, although that’s a more recent development. But the coconut milk is very very regional and quite limited, certainly not the norm nor the classic.

The author mentioned consulting Chef Romy Dorotan.  I have the highest respect for Romy (and his very very gracious wife!), whom I have met on several occasions while dining at his then Filipino-inspired restaurant on the SoHo district, Cendrillon, and recently, Purple Yam, in Brooklyn.  His brother was a classmate of my hubby’s back in college.  But I beg to differ on this one!

Filipino Adobo is all about the garlic, the bay leaves, peppercorns, and very importantly, the vinegar.  The salting agent can be salt, patis, or soy sauce.  The addition of coconut milk is limited to small areas of the country such as the Bicol region, where even the Binagoongan has coconut milk.  And spicy chilis called siling labuyo are added for the kick.  Other regions also add ground cooked liver to the sauce.  So this is yet another variation. Again, it’s quite regional but the more widely accepted version is sans liver and sans coconut milk.

My Selection of Vinegars for Many Purposes, (c) Likeitiz

My Selection of Vinegars for Many Purposes, (c) Likeitiz

Now, about the vinegar.  We are a household with a cupboard full of different vinegars from all over, for various purposes, not just cooking. It’s used for dipping, rendering, washing, cleaning and disinfecting, even dressing.  My cupboard overflows with them.  I dare not use the wrong one for the wrong purpose!  Heaven forbid!

For Adobo, I have learned to use the Datu Puti brand, derived from sugarcane. My hubby always tells me my adobo is so right when I use this. He can tell when I’ve had to use a substitute. When I’m out of them and I’m desperate, I do use the apple cider vinegar by Del Monte or some red wine vinegar.  I usually have to add 30% less.  But, it’s never the same.  In a pinch, it’s a poor but acceptable substitute.

Datu Puti Brand Cane Vinegar

Datu Puti Brand Cane Vinegar

My hubby’s family is from Nueva Ecija. His mother’s family was from Pampanga. They use Patis to salt their adobo, not soy sauce.  Patis is fermented fish or shrimp or squid, salted and allowed to mature in large vats for months to years.  It provides quite the Unami punch to any dish.  In the recent years, I hear it’s become the “secret ingredient” of many a successful mainstream chef.  The brand I like best is the Three Crab Brand.  It’s a few more cents but it’s well worth it for the robust flavor and the lack of stale fishy scent the other brands tend to have.  The use of soy sauce is a more recent development, with the long history of trade with Chinese boat merchants

I did appreciate a few pointers in the article that I have found to be quite true:

  1. Marinate the chicken.  I do Patis, Vinegar, and garlic.  I have a friend who swears by overnight marinating in the refrigerator.  I have found that thirty minutes to an hour is enough.
  2. Brown the chicken. The caramelization provides added flavor to the dish.
Three Crab Brand Fish Sauce (Patis)

Three Crab Brand Fish Sauce (Patis)

After browning the chicken, I skim off excess oil and leave enough to saute the onions and garlic.  These need to be slowly caramelized in the oil to extract the most of their flavor.  Then I arrange the chicken pieces on the pan, pour the vinegar marinade, put in some peppercorns and two bay leaves, depending on the size of the dish. Then I cover the pan and place the whole thing in the oven, where it will simmer beautifully for about 40 minutes. I do this so I can leave the dish to simmer without overflowing.  In this way, I can be in front of the computer blogging!

Sometimes, when I have time, I remove the lid from the pan and broil the tops of the chicken for 2 minutes at the end, to crisp up the skin. But this is not always necessary.  Adobo is such great comfort food!  And yes, do save the extra sauce, if you have some.  They make a great Adobo Fried Rice topped with Eggs Sunny-Side Up the next morning.

Some photos of Adobo on the Internet:

Homemade Filipino chicken adobo

Homemade Filipino chicken adobo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chicken Adobo

Chicken Adobo (Photo credit: arnold | inuyaki)

English: Filipino pork adobo

English: Filipino pork adobo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just about anything can be cooked Adobo-style:  Pork shoulder, pork spare ribs, pork chops, Cornish hens, chicken wings, Beef Short Ribs, Fish, Vegetables like BokChoy, Cabbage, Eggplant, Kangkong (Swamp Cabbage or River Spinach), to name a few.  If you’re into gamey fare, there’s deer, wild boar, various kinds of fowl, goat, bison, turkey.  You name it, we can “adobo” it!

Adobo is a very cultural and personal thing among Filipinos.  We’re very passionate about it.  It might not look like much on the photos.  After all, they mostly look like mounds of brown. But the aroma ensnares you and reaches deep into the pit of your stomach, your heart and your soul.  One whiff, followed by a mouthful with freshly cooked white long-grain rice, and you’re hooked forever!

You might not believe me but go ask my daughter’s college friends.  99% of them are devotees already. It’s their new comfort food.

This entry was posted in Adobo, America's Test Kitchen, Chicken Adobo, Filipino Food, Food and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to America’s Test Kitchen, Holy Snafu!

  1. litadoolan says:

    I envy your selection of vinegars! I have cider and balsamic. I think I will be bold and try a few new flavours. You remind me how vinegar is a great ingredient,


  2. lidipiri says:

    Wow! You just made me hungry! Patis? Saw this in many parts of Asia when I went. Went to where they made it in a village in Cambodia (though I must admit the smell – I have a heightened sense of smell – was a bit much for me.) Didn’t know it was Philippino. Thanks for all this info.
    How are you, your husband and Beau doing? Can’t believe you are finding time to post!


    • likeitiz says:

      Most Asian countries have their versions of Patis. It’s called different names for the same sauce that’s packed with naturally occurring umami. I know a lot of chefs around the world now use it as a secret ingredient because it adds a new dimension to the dish.

      Beau and hubby are on the mend. Thanks for asking. Beaus has gone back to his usual sweet self, coming up to us often for his dose of pats, hugs, and kisses.


  3. TammyeHoney says:

    Thank you so much for sharing I am always looking for great recipes to try that are of home made products and start from scratch due to my corn allergy. Love stopping by to see your creativity.


    • likeitiz says:

      You have a corn allergy? How does it manifest? Are you anywhere in the US? Corn is in just about any processed food here!


      • TammyeHoney says:

        Adult onset and it took about a year to diagnose after ruling out every thing else in life and totally cooking from scratch and a very limited diet. Yes corn is in everything. I am so glad for a Korean Market where I can get Potato or Rice Products that substitute.


  4. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Oh my gosh… YUM. My son would LOVE this fare.


  5. fgassette says:

    Looks yummy.

    Thank you for visiting my blog today. I appreciate the time you took to stop by. May your day be filled with joy and peace.


  6. Pingback: Mussels Adobo with Potatoes | food flavor fascination

  7. Starving here! We blame your wonderful article and yummy photos! 🙂 🙂


  8. eof737 says:

    I trust your judgment on this one… Your post is quite detailed about it. 🙂


  9. ristinw says:

    Very delicious post! ^0^ Vinegar is good for health! Sometimes I like to add vinegar to my food. 😀


  10. munchow says:

    Fun to read for a non-Filipino. I didn’t even know there were so many types of vinegar. For me vinegar is vinegar, so thank you for the education.


  11. What a coincidence. I just had Chicken Adobo this morning…at 4 in the morning. I left work at 3 and craved for this heavenly cuisine. And hooray for the cookbooks mention. It is a great dish. It’s about time we share the limelight with the rest of the worlds famous food. I can only eat a certain amount of pizza and burgers. Ha, ha, ha. Have a great weekend.


  12. I agree with you, the adobo that I know is cooked without coconut milk.


  13. Writerlious says:

    Yum…. Looks delicious!


  14. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Gosh how complex – I have two vinegars, balsamic and god old malt!


  15. Your indignation over coconut milk made me smile, and your recipe made me drool. Wonderfully written, very informative post.


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