Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thanks Mom! or Adobo 101

(The next time I make it, I swear to take a photo; but bear in mind, photos of brown food are rarely well-received.)

The moment my mom complimented me on my adobo recipe was the moment I decided to make it a blog post. Nevermind the positive feedback from friends, Filipino or otherwise. Her opinion mattered most. When you consider that she never actually taught me any recipes, and that this was the first time I cooked food associated with our culture for her, it was kind of a big deal for me.

I will be the first to admit this is not an original recipe. However, I do know the person who wrote it, and they're not Asian; that's beside the point (but always an interesting one to point out). Everyone has their own take on adobo. Chicken or pork? Wet or dry? How much of a particular ingredient are you using? The one I always ponder is whether to add carrots and/or potatoes. It comes down to personal preference, so take this as a starter recipe. I like it. My husband and yoga partner love it. Mom approves. 

I'll point out anything modified as we go along...


3 pounds chicken thighs (bone-in and skin on) - original says 2, but the packages I tend to find are always 1.5#. In this case, I lean towards more protein.

1 1/2 cups soy sauce - normally 1 cup only, but I up all the subsequent ingredients to compensate for the extra pound of chicken.

3/4 cup white vinegar - avoid any other flavors or colors. plain is good.

2 tablespoons fresh ground pepper - with so few ingredients, fresh is preferred.

3 tablespoons brown sugar - don't even think about white.

6 garlic cloves, minced - I cheat and use the frozen cubes from Trader Joe's. They melt right into the sauce.

4 bay leaves - whole is ideal, but the flakes mean you don't have to worry about biting into one.

What to do

Combine soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, brown sugar, garlic and bay leaves in a large pot. I like whisking everything together so the ingredients are evenly distributed and the sugar is fully dissolved. That's just my Capricorn tendency.

Place chicken, skin side down, in pot and bring to a boil. The key here is to have enough surface area for all the chicken to lay flat. Cooking this side first gives it a rich coloring, and the fat from the skin melts into the liquid (at least, that's what I tell myself). I think doing so contributes to the overall taste.

Once it boils, immediately turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover the pot. Moisture builds up. Steam builds up. Cooking in one vessel is good. Get started on that rice. My parents started using a blend of white and brown rice, which holds up well under all that sauce.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid and turn chicken over. Simmer for another 20-30 minutes. Now I don't know if I should've placed the lid back on, but I've done it both ways. The liquid will reduce a bit with the lid off, so if you like a wet recipe, put it back on.

You're done! Scoop some of that well-timed rice onto a plate and enjoy your meal. Remember to have a serving spoon handy so folks can pour some of the cooking liquid over your rice (what a waste if you don't!).

What I love about adobo is that most of the ingredients are already in my kitchen. And you really can't go wrong with meat, rice and soy sauce. The brown sugar cuts through some of the vinegar's acidity and soy's salt content, making it even more important than you think. The thighs are a darker meat, hence more flavor. And unless you plan to peel and chop all that garlic, it's a user-friendly recipe that impresses even my mom. In the words of my favorite character on Fairly Legal, "Win-win!!"

Note: I just received a book that covers cooking from around the world, and their version of adobo utilizes boneless pork belly, red onions, red and green bell peppers, ginger and paprika. They also fry up the meat first. All fantastic options if you're craving some veg (I noticed a lot of Filipino cooking is more meat-centric, or maybe it's just what's been presented to me?). I think I'll try it for some New Year's parties we're attending.

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