Filipino Chicken Adobo
If I were ever tasked with mainstreaming Filipino food into U.S. culture, there would be two foods on that campaign trail that have never failed to please crowds: chicken adobo and lumpia. Chicken adobo is the equivalent to the pot roast of the Philippines and well-worth knowing how to cook.
I’ve shared my mother’s chicken adobo recipe multiple times with friends at parties and on-air, in an old public access cooking show. That being said, I’ll share it again in this blog, because I recently made it for a last-day-of-the-semester, class potluck party. It got great reviews and just confirmed for me that it really is an easy dish to like. In addition, it is very inexpensive for college students and families. It’s easy to make big batches and also easy to freeze, if needed.
The only downside to that potluck was that I was using a rice cooker I don’t use often and shorted the water a touch. Even chef instructors have off days. Make your rice ahead of time, because the dish should be served over fluffy, moist rice.
The recipe is easy for anyone. Like pot roast, it does well as a meal the next day, sometimes tastes even better.
One of the things I appreciate most about the dish, is that it smacks of umami (one of the five tastes that grabs us all the time—that magical savory taste that sits between salty and an underlying sweet and triggers our neuroreceptors to want more), because of the chicken and the soy sauce. When learning about the five tastes, this one is an easy one for grasping “umami.”
Traditionally, in the Philippines, this dish is made with manok, or chicken, though it can be made with pork as well. When using chicken, my mother would butcher the whole thing and use almost every part. I’m partial to leaving organs out of the dish but will throw in a chicken neck for intense flavor if I have it.
When one ventures into cross-cultural exchange, there are compromises to be made. In this modern age with no time, the butchering of a whole chicken. Buy chicken thighs. Buy drumsticks or buy chicken breasts, if you prefer. Only the cooking times will change. The beauty and benefit of essentially braising the chicken is that it is hard not to end up with tender chicken at the end.
In my youth, chicken adobo was a staple in our household, to the chagrin of my brother. Our menu seemed to rotate among a few items, some form of steak from the steer or cow that my mother had bought from Bernie, the local butcher; some form of fish from Lake Michigan that my father had caught; and then grilled chicken in the summer, or chicken adobo any time else.
This dish is so popular and such an iconic household dish that the Filipino musician from the Black-eyed Peas acknowledged and rocked its cultural significance in the song Bebot (pretty girl/woman). Check it out here!
By the way, the Mom in the video is a lot like many of my Filipino aunties. They always want to feed you and often embarrass you with their love and care.
The song is catchy in the same way that this dish is just a little addictive.
- 1 whole chicken, cut into eight parts and rinsed, but not patted dry (or 1 package boneless skinless thighs, 1 package skinless drumsticks and 1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
- 1 bay leaf
- 9 peppercorns (telicherry preferred)
- 6 whole cloves of garlic
- 1 cup soy sauce (equivalent to ¼ cup pure gluten-free tamari (if no sugar and no gluten is preferred) and ¾ cup water)
- 5 oz. white vinegar
- Over medium high heat, place chicken in a large pot. In cheesecloth tied with twine, place garlic cloves, bay leaf, and peppercorns.
- Pour in soy sauce and vinegar.
- Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, covered by lid
- Traditionally, Filipinos will remove the garlic cloves from the pot at this point and place them in a small sauté pan with oil on medium heat to brown the garlic.
- Once the garlic is sizzling in the pan, take the back of a spoon and smash the garlic against the pan bottom.
- Add about two ounces of sauce from the pot to it and add the garlic and sauce back into the pot for incorporation into the dish.
- Cook for approximately 40 minutes until done.
- If you don’t have measuring cups when you are making this dish, a good rule of thumb is to use a standard dinner tablespoon and start with 10 tablespoons of vinegar, and add 12 tablespoons of soy sauce.
- Increase liquid by the same ratio to ensure that the chicken is only partially covered by liquid and cover with lid.
- This dish has more flavor when the bones and skin are used, but it can be prepared with only boneless, skinless meat. The skin is easily removed after cooking. If you wish to remove the fat at the surface of the cooking liquid, cool overnight in the refrigerator and remove it the next day before reheating.