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Filipino Adobo – A Family Recipe

I come from a large family of cooks and foodies on both sides. And like most Filipino families, we have our very own family recipe for adobo that we swear by. The adobo I know is from my mother’s side of the family. I spent a large part of my childhood in my maternal grandmother’s house where chicken and pork adobo was a staple. Our adobo is on the dry side, meaning not too saucy or wet, with fork-tender chicken and pork meat, and an oily, flavorful sauce rich with garlic, peppercorns and those tiny, utterly delicious bits and pieces of adobo goodness. There are so many Filipino adobo recipes out there, so let’s be clear about some fundamental things:

  • Repeat after me: You do not put onions in your adobo.

  • It is either pork or chicken or both. Please do not attempt to adobo a lamb or some other poor thing and call it Filipino adobo. The basic recipe calls for just the two types of meat above and the fresher those are the better your adobo.

  • Never forget the peppercorns or the bay leaves. The bay leaf in particular lends its distinctive aroma to adobo that makes adobo what it is.

  • We have our own soy sauce and vinegar of choice and we stick to it but you can use any local brand. Elsewhere, Filipino-style soy sauce and vinegar should be available in Asian food stores. Just remember never to use the thicker, sweeter types of Asian soy sauce for this adobo, and just use plain white or cane vinegar. In fact, you can skip the soy sauce altogether.

  • Always take time to tenderize the meat. Whether you prefer the saucy or the dry adobo, it is nothing if not tender.

  • And it’s true that adobo is great served right after cooking. But it’s even better the next day.

I can’t talk about adobo without mentioning Lourdes–our family’s long-time cook, whose legendary kitchen prowess is as enduring as her loyalty. She’s part of our family, and my young memories are filled with her doing her magic in my grandmother’s kitchen. I have asked her for versions of this recipe many times, never mind that it is so simple, and I have enjoyed this adobo, made by her, for many more. I hope you try it! – Ina Amor Mejia

Filipino Chicken & Pork Adobo

*Serves 5-6 hungry people

INGREDIENTS
3/4 kg chicken pieces, skin on
1/2 kg cubed pork belly
2 heads of garlic, chopped
soy sauce
white or cane vinegar
whole peppercorns
bay leaves
rock salt (optional)

TO MAKE
1. Put the chicken and pork in a medium-sized pot with a lid. Add the garlic, peppercorns, and soy sauce and vinegar, which should make enough liquid just to cover some of the meat (some pieces will still be above the liquid and that’s ok). There should be twice as much vinegar to the soy sauce. If you’re not using soy sauce, salt the meat well and add enough vinegar just to cover. You can also dilute the vinegar just a bit with about 1/4 cup of water. Give the meat mixture a quick but thorough stir.

2. Add about 5 bay leaves and then in medium-high heat, bring the adobo to a boil. Turn heat down to low and then cover. Simmer gently until meat is tender (at least an hour), and the soy-vinegar mixture has somewhat reduced.

3. Turn the heat off and let the adobo rest, covered, at room temperature, until no longer piping hot. You can actually serve the adobo at this point or do as we do and move on to the next step.

4. Carefully transfer the chicken and pork (which should be really tender) to a non-stick frying pan this time, but one that’s big enough to hold all of the meat in one layer. Pour in a bit of the oil from the first pot and gently fry the adobo over medium heat. The point is to cook the chicken and pork further down to a crisp, turning the pieces once to brown on both sides.

5. Once all the meat is done to your liking you can choose to pour the rest of the adobo sauce into the frying pan to heat. Serve with hot rice and enjoy. Or if you are making ahead, cool the adobo before keeping in the fridge and reheat gently on the stove before serving the next day.

Notes: After you make adobo the first time, you should get a better idea about the ratio of vinegar to soy sauce, depending on how you like your adobo, and whether you’d like to add that bit of water at all. Some people prefer to omit the soy sauce and just add salt in with the vinegar. Yours will be a paler, perhaps less salty adobo, but one that still hits the spot. Enjoy!

*Photo by Ina Amor Mejia.
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