Photo by Tam West
Aptly described as “the love language of the Philippines”, adobo is a versatile cooking method whereby the main ingredient (meat, seafood or vegetable) is slowly simmered in vinegar — deceptively flavoured with garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves — until the liquid has all but evaporated, leaving the dish to saute and colour in its own rich reduction. Typically made with chicken or pork, adobo traditionally uses mild vinegars such as coconut or palm sugar, but white wine vinegar works very nicely. It’s a sweet dish, as addictive as it is pungently peppery and tender. You’ll fall in love with adobo, over and over again.
- Using a sharp meat cleaver or knife, remove the nub end from the drumsticks and cut the thighs in half through the bone.
- In a mortar and pestle, crush garlic and salt to a paste and mix in soy sauce. Rub this mix on to chicken pieces and leave to marinate for an hour.
- Arrange chicken in a wide-based saucepan, add vinegar, bay leaves and peppercorns. Cover and bring to a boil then turn down to simmer for 40 minutes, basting the chicken occasionally, until the liquid has mostly evaporated and the chicken is tender.
- Turn the heat back up and turn the chicken so it colours and fries in the reduction. You can also grill it to brown and crisp up at this stage. Serve with steamed white rice, or coconut rice.
The meat should be cooked coloured and tender by the time the liquid has all but gone — so start with less vinegar and add more if the dish requires further cooking. If the meat is cooked before the liquid has fully evaporated, take it out and brown it under the grill while you reduce the liquor, then return the meat to the sauce and coat to serve.
Make it your way
Endlessly adaptable, the simplicity of adobo lends itself to experimentation and personal preference. Try duck, pork, fish, or prawns, eggplant, kumara, bok choy and even pineapple, adjusting the amount and the type of vinegar you use accordingly. Soy sauce is often used instead of salt, adding a depth of colour, and coconut milk can be used to finish off the dish. Adjust the flavour profile by adding fresh ginger or turmeric, use kaffir leaves as well as bay, add lime zest, a little fish sauce, or heat it up with fresh green chillies.