Adobo is a common and popular Filipino dish. “Adobo “refers to a way of preparing a dish in soy sauce and vinegar, usually meat (chicken, pork, frog legs, it’s only limited by the imagination!). In my household growing up, pork was the meat of choice; however, outside of my family, most people I have come across prefer or are at least more familiar with its chicken variety.
Adobo is the first Filipino dish I learned how to make. As a sophmore in undergrad, fresh out of the dorms and away from the dining halls at UC Santa Cruz, I wanted to be able to eat the food I had grown up with. That was difficult in a town with no Filipino restaurants. So, I had to learn how to make it. My father had me shadow him during the summer in between my freshman and sophomore year. My father made the best chicken adobo in the family. He learned from his mother-in-law, my lola (grandmother in Tagalog), who immigrated from the Philippines to the United States in the early 1980s.
My lola loved my father’s adobo. She always thought it was better than her own. She would ask him, “How do you make your adobo so good, Kano?” (Kano is short for Amerikano and was my family’s endearing way of referring to my father, the American guy).
He would always respond, “I don’t know; you taught me.”
At our many house parties that filled my parent’s home in Long Beach, my father often contributed with at least 10 lb worth of chicken adobo. Since my father passed away more than a year and a half ago, I have taken over the role of chicken adobo maker for my large extended family whenever I am at home. It’s an honor to carry on his tradition of adobo preparation for my closest relatives and loved ones.
This recipe serves about 4 to 5 people. It’s really simple but requires about 1.5 hours, especially your first time around. I usually make about 1/2 pound of meat per person. Of course, each person’s eating capability varies so adjust accordingly. Keep in mind that I also like to be able to give people leftovers to bring home.
- 2 lbs of chicken thighs (with or without the bone, it’s up to you)
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes peeled and cut laterally then again into 3/4 inch wedges (I prefer red or yukon potatoes depending on what is fresher, but I think traditionally people use russet potatoes)
- 2 medium-sized green bell peppers pitted and cut into 3/4 inch slices
- 5-6 cloves of garlic chopped
- 2-3 serrano chilis criss cut (optional)
- 1 cup of soy sauce (preferably Kikkoman)
- 1 cup of clear white vinegar (preferably a Filipino variety but any clear white vinegar will do)
You can play with each of these ingredients until you get the perfect balance for your palate and the palate of your loved ones. My family loves the potatoes, so I always add more for them. Some like their adobo even saltier and add more soy sauce. Some prefer it to be less acidic and add less vinegar. Some don’t like spice whatsoever and don’t add the serranos. In my family, we add 2-3 serranos to everything for “flavor.” The point is–as with any other recipe you come across–if it doesn’t quite turn out the way you like the first time, you can always adjust.
First chop the garlic and add it to the wok with a little oil. Next cut the chicken thighs in half. If you buy thighs with the bone, make sure to use a sharp butcher knife and maybe even a large blunt object to hammer the knife through the bone (carefully of course!). (Sidenote: I have tried to make adobo with chicken breast, and while it comes out descent, it is much more tender and flavorful with thigh meat.) Now bring the flame to a medium heat under your wok and stir fry your garlic for about a minute or until fragrant. Next, add the chicken, stirring constantly. Add fresh black pepper to the chicken while you stir fry it, until you see a little pepper on all sides of the chicken. Continue to stir fry the chicken for 5-10 minutes or until the chicken is golden or “pretty” as my father would say.
Now, add the soy sauce and the vinegar. It should look like the chicken is swimming in it. Once the sauce has come to a boil, lower to heat to medium-low and allow to boil softly uncovered, stirring and turning over the chicken pieces every few minutes so that it cooks evenly.
Meanwhile, peel and chop the potatoes, slice the green bell peppers and cut the serrano peppers.
Add the potato wedges and serrano peppers to the wok and stir to incorporate.
You’ll notice that the sauce will reduce as the water boils out. When it has almost completely reduced, partially cover the wok and stir every few minutes until you can easily fork the potatoes (the waiting time on this depends on how big you cut your potato wedges!). This step can take anywhere between 15-50 minutes. Be patient, it’s better with cooked potatoes. Once the potatoes are soft, bring the wok to a high flame, add about two more tablespoons of soy sauce and stir fry the adobo on high heat for a minute. This will harden the outsides of the potatoes a bit much like what we do with tortilla española. Remove the wok from heat and add the sliced bell pepper, stirring to incorporate. Serve immediately with a side of steamed rice.
Voila! You’ve just made chicken adobo! How does it taste? Does anyone else do it differently?
Note: To make pork adobo, use 2 lbs of pork roast meat cut into 1″ cubes with or without the fat depending on your taste. Prepare the pork the same way you would the chicken, but do not add the potatoes and the bell peppers. The pork will take longer to get tender than the chicken. When the soy sauce and vinegar have boiled down, test the tenderness of the pork with a fork. You should be able to fork it easily. If it’s not tender, add a glass of water and allow to boil down. Test the pork again once the water has evaporated. Continue to add water until it’s tender. Once it is tender, stir fry as you would the chicken adobo and serve with steamed rice.