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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- Brown the chicken. The caramelization provides added flavor to the dish.
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:
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.
- 7,000 islands with 28,000 ‘adobo’ variations (opinion.inquirer.net)
- Gizzard Adobo (chefsopinion.org)
- Chicken Adobo and 40 Cloves of Garlic (burntlumpia.typepad.com)
- Swamp Cabbage Adobo (notecook.com)
- Recipe, Classic Filipino dish, Chicken Adobo, cook it at home! (worldtourwhilediving.com)
- Chicken Pork Adobo With Liver Spread (countybakermom.wordpress.com)
- Chicken Adobo Recipe (mademan.com)
- Episode 41:My Homemade Adobong Baboy Ramo (unlimitedgrubgrabs.wordpress.com)
- Recipe: chicken adobo amazingness (loudfootsteps.wordpress.com)
- Tita Em’s Chicken Wings Adobo (cooking.nytimes.com)