Chicken adobo is a dish that has a special place in my heart. Growing up in the Philippines early on and even now, it was and is a staple in our household and it always brought comfort and a sense of nostalgia. For those who have never had the pleasure of trying it, make it the next thing on your to-do list.
Depending on where you are in the world, conduct research on some local Filipino restaurants and get to trying. You’ll wish you had sooner.
When looking at Filipino chicken adobo at a super high level, is a dish made by marinating meat, fish, or vegetables in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and other spices. it is then simmered until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened.
Although it may seem like a normal everyday dish, when I think of adobo, the first thing that comes to mind is the distinct aroma of garlic and soy sauce wafting through the house. It’s a true representation of Filipino cuisine, and it’s no surprise that it has become a staple in Filipino households all over the world.
A Quick History of Adobo
The term “adobo” comes from the Spanish word “adobar” which means “to marinate”. Pretty explanatory, right?
The origins can be traced back to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines in the 16th century. [Read more about how cultural significance influences languages in The Philippines]
The Spanish introduced the use of vinegar and other spices to the Philippines, which were then incorporated into the traditional indigenous cooking methods.
Over time, it has been adapted and evolved by different regions and cultural groups within the Philippines. Different regions have their own variations of adobo, using different types of meat, vinegar, and spices to create unique and delicious variations of the dish.
For example, in the Visayan region, they use coconut vinegar and in the Ilocos region, they use sugarcane vinegar.
Some regions also use additional ingredients like coconut milk or turmeric to enhance the flavor.
One popular version of chicken adobo is made by marinating chicken in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, and peppercorns. The chicken is then cooked until tender and the sauce has thickened. This dish can be served with steamed rice and is often garnished with green onions or cilantro.
How to Cook Chicken Adobo
My favorite version of chicken adobo is my mom’s recipe, of course. Many families say that their way is the best way (which may or may not be subjective), so it’s always an ongoing competition that will last until the end of time. I’ll share a similar recipe that I like to make at home.
Caveat here – ingredient lists are typically not used in Filipino households. Dishes are usually made from memory, with the inclusion of ingredients that aren’t measured but sprinkled, splashed, dashed, and thrown in. While this may seem inconsistent, this is how things are usually done in the kitchen and the results always come out amazing.
- 1 kg of chicken (thighs or drumettes)
- 1 cup soy sauce (or coconut aminos)
- 1 cup vinegar (coconut or cane)
- 1 head of garlic, minced
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup brown sugar (optional)
- In a large pot, Dutch oven, (or even a slow cooker) combine the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and brown sugar (if using). Stir to combine.
- Add the chicken to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low and let the chicken simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened. (This will change if using a slow cooker)
- Remove the chicken from the pot and let it cool slightly.
- Once cooled, carefully shred the chicken.
- Return the shredded chicken to the pot and stir it up to coat the chicken in that delicious sauce.
- Serve with steamed rice and garnish with green onions or cilantro.
I like to add some brown sugar to my adobo because it gives it a nice balance of sweet and savory. However, this is optional and you can definitely leave it out if you prefer a less sweet version.
Like I mentioned, there is definitely more than one way to make this dish. Here is another similar way to cook it!
- 4 lbs of chicken thighs or drumettes
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup vinegar (coconut or cane)
- 1 head of garlic, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Green onions and cilantro for garnish
- In a large bowl, mix together the soy sauce, coconut milk, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorns, and turmeric powder. Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- Heat a large skillet or pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and onion, and sauté until the onion is translucent.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade, and reserve the marinade. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook until browned on both sides, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add the marinade, and chicken broth, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
- Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and water to form a slurry. Slowly pour the slurry into the skillet, stirring constantly, and bring the sauce to a boil.
- Once the sauce thickens, add the chicken back to the skillet and toss to coat in the sauce.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve the chicken adobo with steamed rice and garnish with green onions and cilantro.
This recipe is a bit more complex compared to the traditional chicken adobo recipe, and doing so adds the richness of coconut milk, the earthy flavor of turmeric, and the thickening of the sauce with cornstarch.
The addition of turmeric gives a beautiful yellow color and a unique flavor.
What Else Can You Serve It With?
Serving this dish with some fried potatoes helps to enhance the flavors and add some more complexity. Additionally, frying the rice in the same pot where the dish was cooked will help the rice absorb the flavors and make an incredibly mouthwatering entrée.
What Does It Taste Like?
Heaven. Just kidding, but really not kidding.
Chicken adobo typically has a savory and slightly tangy taste, with a balance of salty and slightly sweet flavor. The incorporation of the soy sauce and vinegar gives it a tangy taste, while the garlic, bay leaves, and peppercorns give it a savory and slightly spicy flavor.
The combination of these ingredients creates a unique and complex taste that is hard to describe. It is also a dish that can vary depending on the recipe and the cook, some adobo can be sweeter as I mentioned, some tangier, some spicier, and others less.
What Drinks Pair Well?
When eating this dish, you definitely need a refreshing beverage. Some recipes are saltier than others, but even if not, having a nice drink completes the experience.
For beer, a light lager or pilsner would complement the dish’s tangy and savory flavors. San Miguel Pale Pilsen is a great choice.
For wine, a dry red wine such as Pinot Noir, or a dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, can balance the dish’s bold flavors.
A cold glass of calamansi juice would be a great pairing as it cuts through the rich flavors.
Another option is to have a cold glass of coconut water (buko juice) or coconut soda (buko pandan) which is a sweet and refreshing complement to the savory flavors of the adobo.
What are the Health Benefits of Chicken Adobo?
Chicken Adobo is a relatively healthy dish, as it is made with lean protein and a variety of spices that offer a range of health benefits. I eat it often enough and am health conscious, so I try to make mine as healthy as possible.
Here are a few potential benefits of consuming chicken adobo:
- Protein: Chicken is a good source of lean protein, which is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue, and can help to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
- Low in fat: Chicken Adobo is a low-fat dish, which can be helpful for those trying to maintain a healthy weight or lower their cholesterol levels.
- Heart-healthy: The vinegar used in adobo can help to lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
- Anti-inflammatory: Many of the spices used in adobo, such as garlic, bay leaves, and black pepper, have anti-inflammatory properties
- Immune system: Adobo also contains ginger, which is known to boost the immune system
This dish contains soy sauce which is high in sodium, so it should be consumed in moderation. Using a low-sodium soy sauce is ideal.
How is Adobo Prepared in Other Countries?
Different countries have their own unique ways of preparing chicken adobo, and I’m sure they’re all super tasty just based on what ingredients are used.
In Mexico, adobo is a dry rub or paste made from chili peppers, spices, and herbs that are used to flavor meat, fish, or vegetables. It is not typically made with soy sauce or vinegar.
In Spain, adobo is a sauce made with paprika, garlic, and olive oil. It is used as a marinade for meat or fish and is not typically made with soy sauce or vinegar.
In Peru, adobo is a traditional marinade, it is made with a blend of spices, including cumin, garlic, and oregano, and it is used to flavor meat, fish, and poultry.
What Have We Learned?
We have learned what adobo is, its cultural significance, how to make it, and much more!
It’s an amazing dish that can be made and enjoyed anywhere and everywhere. My favorite places to enjoy this dish is at a bonfire at the beach, or grilled at home and eating it while you watch your family and friends embarrass themselves on the mic while singing karaoke.
Be sure to try these recipes out at home, and feel free to experiment with different spices and ingredients to add your own flair. Careful though, if you start messing with how it’s traditionally made by too much, the older individuals in the family may get upset!
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