Adobo Four Ways

In his book How To Cook Everything, Mark Bittman calls chicken adobo “the best chicken dish in the world.”  In his 2002 article on adobo, he says that he “doesn’t know of another dish where such a basic combination of ingredients and technique gives better results.”

Last year, Sam Sifton dedicated an entire NYT Magazine article to the mystery of the Filipino dish called adobo.

“There is great fun to be had in asking Filipinos how to make adobo, particularly when they are in groups…Husbands argue with wives about adobo. Friends shoot each other dirty looks…,” is exactly how he put it when dealing with the many ways Filipinos make this dish which Sifton called “pungent and rich, sweet and sour and salty at once.” That might really be the only way to describe it because adobo just…is. It’s like asking an American to describe a good burger without using the word “juicy.” It’s a burger, what do you want?

It’s adobo, what do you want? Except that the nature of Filipino cuisine necessitates several versions of it. There really must be 7,100 ways of cooking it, just like the number of islands in my country’s archipelago. I think we can all agree that vinegar is the base. I’ve never tried to omit soy sauce. Coconut milk? I guess we must broaden our horizons sooner or later.

Below are the four ways I’ve made it, and my time tested recipe at the very bottom. It’s pretty darn simple and tasty and being able to make it at home keeps me from ordering the dish elsewhere.  (The first time I made adobo was in a cooking class at the Ajinomoto Test Kitchen in the Philippines as a ten-year-old. But that’s another story.) Don’t worry, there is no MSG in this dish. Enjoy!

Saucy…all the ones below start out like this. Always save the sauce to pour on top of your rice.
Adobo flakes.

After the chicken is cooked, the meat is pulled off the bone and placed in a hot pan to dry and get crispy. Flakes may be smaller and crispier than this photo but it has a tendency to make a whole lot of meat shrink into just a handful (of super yummy crispiness).

Crispy adobo pork belly.

Pork belly slabs may also be allowed to simmer in adobo sauce until tender and then placed in a roasting pan skin side up, then allowed to broil until the tops are crispy. Cut before serving.

Broiled chicken and pork pieces. (Photo by Kanako Shimura)

An oven is a great way to brown the chicken pieces as an alternative to the classic method of frying the pieces in oil before serving. The browned edges become crispy and tasty, turning the chicken and pork skin  even more sinful than they already are. A few minutes under the broiler is usually enough. Make sure you watch it as it burns quickly and splatters oil.

Chicken or Pork Adobo
Pork butt, spare rib tips, or pork belly, cubed and/or chicken pieces
2 parts white vinegar
1 part  water
1 part soy sauce (Silver Swan, or any other Filipino brand works, do NOT use Kikkoman or Japanese soy sauce)
5 bay leaves
1 head garlic, crushed and peeled
1 tsp black peppercorns


Crockpot: In a 4-quart or larger slow cooker, combine all ingredients and set on low for 4-6 hours. (Optional: At about 4 hours the meat should be perfect, you can drain the meat and fry in oil until brown and top with remaining sauce.) Serve with rice.
Conventional Stove: In a large pot, combine all ingredients If using chicken in addition to pork, add chicken 30 minutes later than pork. Simmer over medium heat until meat is tender (usually one hour). Drain and fry meat in oil until brown (or broil in oven), and top with remaining sauce. Serve with rice.


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  1. Pingback: Easter Dinner – Vegetable Sinigang and Sesame Beef | DopamineJunkie.org

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