My Adobo is Totes Better Than Your Mom’s

(originally posted at my Tumblr on 26 November 2010)

I don’t think I can really talk about food without talking about Adobo. Filipino Adobo is pretty much the national dish of the Philippines, and its most common variety is Chicken Adobo. The same basic cooking technique can be used for just about any type of meat or fish. My dad used to brag to everyone how I make the best adobo.

Adobong Manok, Manila Style, as it’s made at my house (Filipino Chicken Adobo)

a bunch of chicken thighs or legs, say 2-3 lbs., depending on how hungry you and your family are.

This will be best with bone-in, skin-on chicken, but you can use skinless and/or boneless if that suits you. It just won’t be quite as awesomely good…

You could also just use a whole cut up chicken (fryer > roaster), but the breast meat tends to get a bit dry since this is a long-cooking dish. If you’re going to use breasts, let the dark meat cook for awhile, then add the white meat to help keep it from getting too dry. Of course, the rich sauce that results makes up for the dryness of the breast meat.

You could cut the thighs, or whatever, in half if you want smaller pieces, but everytime I do that, I end up with bone fragments in the pot, so I don’t recommend doing so.

about a cup of soy sauce
about a cup of vinegar

I like to use Filipino vinegar, such as Sukang Iloco. This is a good post on different types of Filipino vinegars, from Burnt Lumpia, a great Filipino food blog. If you don’t have any suka on hand, you can use plain old white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar.

Mostly, you want a 50/50 ratio of soy sauce to vinegar, or maybe up to a 3:4, or even 2:3, ratio of soy sauce to vinegar. It depends on how you like it. Just mix up enough for the amount of chicken you have in the pot. It’ll be pretty obvious how much you need, but the exact amount isn’t like, super critical or anything.

a whole mess of garlic

I like to use at least a couple of heaping tablespoons of chopped garlic. My parents used to use a whole head of garlic and just smash the cloves with the side of a knife. It’s pretty hard to use too much garlic in this.

black pepper

Traditionally, this is whole peppercorns, say about 24 or so, but I can’t stand chewing on whole peppercorns, so I just grind a bunch in coarsely, say, a teaspoon or two, ‘cause I like black pepper.

a few bay leaves (3 or 4, I guess)

some patis, if you’re into that sort of thing (I dunno, a tablespoon or two? Depends on your ratio of soy sauce to vinegar…more vinegar tends to argue for some patis to balance it out)

Patis (pa-TEESS) is the Filipino version of the practically ubiquitous Southeast Asian fish sauce. We’ve always used Rufina brand, made in the town where my dad grew up, Malabon, in Metro Manila. Rufina patis is quite a bit saltier and stronger than the Thai (nam pla) or Viet (nước mắm) versions with which you may be familiar, or at least, than the Thai and Viet versions with which I am familiar, to be precise.

What, you may ask, are you supposed to do with all these ingredients?

Put it all in a pot, bring it to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for like, 45 minutes to an hour…however long it takes for the chicken to get to fall-off-the-bone tender. Just keep an eye on the liquid, and add some water, if necessary. It should be fairly soupy and rich, not thin and broth-like, not really thick and super salty. You do want to have plenty of sauce left in the pot for everyone to get some. Definitely, do not let all the liquid boil away and have the sauce burn. That would be bad. You don’t usually have to worry about this, because the chicken will give off plenty of water. Just keep an eye on it now and then, and everything will be hunky-dory.

Now, you can serve it just like that, if you like, or:

You could add some coconut milk and turn it into Adobong Manok sa Gata (Chicken Adobo with Coconut Milk, duh). Just pour in a typical size can of coconut milk, which is usually somewhere around 13.5-ish ounces), and not that silly “light” coconut milk…get the real deal, at some point during cooking (you could do it at the beginning, or at the end, it doesn’t really matter that much…I tend to wait until the end of cooking), and stir it around a bit. I don’t make this very often, because there’s always someone around who will bitch about the coconut milk. Philistines. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Of course, you could always make your own coconut milk, if you’re a masochist.

You can take the chicken pieces out of the sauce, brown them for a bit under a broiler, reduce the sauce some, put the chicken pieces on a serving dish and pour the sauce over. I very rarely bother to do this, but every once in awhile…

OK, so, serve that with some white, long grain rice, and a veg side. I like to serve it with tropical fruits instead of vegetables (fresh cut mango, pineapple, bananas, what have you, with a little lime juice or calamansi juice drizzled over the top). Broiled pineapple with brown sugar is really great with adobo.

Now before you get all religious and doctrinaire about your adobo, you should know that there are as many different ways of making adobo as there are Filipino kitchens in the world. This is just the way I do it, and it’s never failed to please.

There are some people who say you shouldn’t use soy sauce at all, because that’s really a Chinese ingredient, blah, blah, blah, or some other such nonsense. I don’t listen to them, but one of these days, I’ll try it just for shits and giggles.

As I understand it my method of preparation is more typical of the Manila area, and in the southern islands, they tend not to use the soy sauce (I think they substitute patis, or even just salt?) What do I know…I’m Fil-Am, born in the US, I don’t even speak the language, and I’ve only been there once for two weeks. My dad’s dead now, so I can’t even ask him about it anymore. Which is a shame, because he was Visayan/Tagalog, so he might have known this bit. Ah, well…I can tell you that there’s a restaurant I know of that makes their adobo without soy sauce. I’ve had theirs, and I don’t prefer it that way.


The vinegar is a very effective preservative, which is useful in tropical climates, especially if you don’t have access to refrigeration. If you think it’s too fatty, you can let it cool down, then skim off the fat. Me, I like the fat, so I don’t usually remove it. Adobo keeps well, and is even better the next day.

Oh, also, about soy sauce. I use Kikkoman, and I prefer the stuff that’s made in Japan to the stuff that’s made in the US. The only difference is that the Japanese version uses alcohol as its preservative, and the US version uses sodium benzoate. There’s a subtle taste difference, but I don’t get all pissy about it if I can only get the US variety. You usually have to get the Japanese version in specialty Asian markets, but since you’ll be there to get the suka, anyway, you may as well get the Japanese Kikkoman while you’re there.


The Seal of Yin-Haan