Why do I love this chicken adobo recipe? Because it has a secret. And I’m going to reveal it to you. No, it’s not the ratio of soy sauce to vinegar because that is a matter of taste (I like mine 2:1). The secret is in the method: it’s adding the vinegar at the end of the cooking time, instead of letting the meat cook in it.
Harsh acids, like lemon or vinegar, interact with the meat’s protein by causing molecules to pack closely together and to squeeze out their juices. As a result, the meat becomes dry and tough when marinated or cooked in harsh acids for long periods of time. And nobody likes a dry piece of meat.
Since we slow simmer the chicken for 30 to 45 minutes to achieve a tender end-product, it is best to add the vinegar during the last 10 minutes of cooking. This yields a fall-off-the-bone (but not fall-apart mushy) chicken that is neither too sour nor salty. If you follow this recipe, you are already on your way to making an authentic Filipino dish.
Not to be confused with Mexican-style adobo, the Filipino adobo is, simply, meat stewed in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar. Garlic, whole peppercorns, and bay leaves are most commonly added to give the stew its characteristic taste, and the rest are just frills.
If there was a dish that’s emblematic of the Filipino culture, it’s – hands down – the adobo. Filipinos go so far as to proclaim this their national dish, but of course, this is all unofficial. Sources indicate that tribal Filipinos were said to have been cooking “in adobo” even before the Spanish arrived. However, it was the Spanish colonizers who supplied the term “adobo” (meaning marinade in Spanish) to describe this indigenous cooking method. Later on, with the arrival of Chinese immigrants, soy sauce was introduced to local cooking, and thus became an essential component in making this Filipino dish.
For my non-Filipino or non-Asian friends, you might not consider this recipe of interest at all, but I hope you deem it worthwhile to give it a try, at least once. Hey, if Michelin-star British chef and author, April Bloomfield (of The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory), deemed Filipino-style adobo worthy to be included in her “A Girl and Her Pig” cookbook, then there’s something to be said about this dish! (I did find her version a bit stronger and too gingery for my taste, though).
- 2 pounds chicken, preferably thighs (but can be made with legs)
- 8 tablespoons soy sauce, preferably a Filipino brand (or Kikkoman will do)
- 6 cloves garlic, mashed
- 1 to 2 cups water
- 2-3 tablespoons cooking oil (olive oil or grapeseed is fine)
- 6 pieces fresh or dried bay leaves
- a handful of whole peppercorns (give about 3 per piece of thigh)
- 4 tablespoons vinegar, preferably Filipino kind, like cane or coconut vinegar
- In a large container, combine soy sauce and garlic, then marinade the chicken for at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.
- Heat the oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, place the chicken on the pan and brown all sides, about 2 minutes per side. You might have to work in batches for this, as you do not want to over crowd your pan. Set aside browned chicken.
- Pour in the remaining marinade of soy sauce and garlic into the pan. Add the water one cup at a time and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust by adding the rest of the water.
- Add the bay leaves and whole peppercorns. Add the chicken back and simmer on medium-low to low for 30 minutes, or until tender. Do not let it come to a hard boil.
- Stir in vinegar and shake the pan around to disperse it. Simmer for another 10 minutes, or until tender.
- Serve hot.