Adobo Here, Adobo There: The Filipino Version is a Filipino Dish

Posted on 13 Mar 2013 15:19

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One thing I've eaten a lot of is the Filipino dish adobo. It's one of those dishes that everybody has their own recipe, but the basic idea is chicken or pork cooked in vinegar and soy sauce with peppercorns and garlic…lots of garlic. It is very simple, like the best comfort food is. The smell of a pot of adobo will bring you running to the table.

According to Raymond Sokolov, no matter what some cooks might think, even regardless of what some Filipinos have been led to believe, adobo as a Filipino dish has nothing to do with adobos in Cuba, Mexico, Spain, etc. The only thing in common is that the Spanish language is used. Why? Probably because the Spaniards thought that the Filipino dish was like what they called adobo, which was basically cooking something in a wine marinade.

As soon as I started eating adobo, cooked up regularly by a Native Filipina that I happened to have domicile with, I came to realize that it really did not seem to have anything much to do with adobo from the rest of the Spanish speaking world. Neither does the chile filled marinade that is Mexican adobo bear any resemblance to the Spanish marinade. The same thing happened in both instances: The Spaniards saw the native dishes and called them by a familiar name, based on superficial similarities. The idea that just because a dish is given a Spanish name (by Spanish speaking people), that it must be a variation of, or have devolved from, a Spanish dish, is an invalid one. We sometimes borrow foreign words for dishes into English when we don't have a good word of our own, but often, we replace the foreign name with our own English one.

homemade Filipino chicken adobo

Chicken Adobo
image © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons (source)

homemade Filipino chicken adobo

Chicken Adobo
image © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons (source)

The fact is that the Spanish originally called the dish adobos de las naturales. Meaning "native adobe dish" or "adobo dish of the native peoples." Case closed.

There are of course, many regional variations of adobo in the Philippines. Sometimes soy sauce is added, as in Manila, and in Cavite they add mashed pork liver. Batangas adds annatto1, for an orange color, and turmeric is used in Laguna which gives the adobo a yellowish color. In Zambonga, way down in the south, they add coconut milk (adobo sa gata), which sounds good!

Adobo in the Philippines can be considered both a specific dish and a way of cooking. Simmering meat with vinegar, garlic, and peppercorns would have given it tenderness and flavor, but also act as a preservation method in the days before refrigeration.

The Filipino adobo recipe below is adopted from Raymond Sokolov's book The Cook's Canon: 101 Classic Recipes Everyone Should Know, which is a unique cookbook in that it built only on "true classics" including dishes that almost everyone has heard of and even eaten, but hardly anyone actually knows how to prepare! These are from all over the world. I a referring to dishes such as Baked Alaska, Borscht, Cannelloni, Ceviche, coq au Vin, Gazpacho, and many more. But also common deserts like chocolate fudge, macaroons, and even doughnuts. Each recipe is preceded by an historical and cultural overview, perfect for us food geeks. The recipes are sometimes very basic, so imagination and improvisation should be encouraged.

Chicken Adobo (Filipino Chicken Stew)

Pork could also be used, or a mixture of both pork and chicken. I've added some steps, such as browning the chicken first, instead of broiling the after the adobo is done, as Sokolov suggest. Some folks like to marinate their chicken in the adobo ingredients first, but I do not think that this is necessary, as the chicken will pick up plenty of flavor just in the braising, and it is hard to get a good crispy browned skin on marinated chicken.

When browning the chicken, which must be done on med-high to high heat, it is not unheard of for Filipino cooks to put all the garlic in at the beginning with the chicken. This will of course brown, and even burn, the garlic, which is something that I do not care for, but some people actually like, and this was the method used for the first adobo I ever ate, which I loved, but have sense found that I prefer not to scorch the garlic in this manner. Instead, I recommend putting in the garlic after the chicken has finished browning, just before adding the rest of the ingredients.


3 to 4 pound cut up chicken, or whatever parts you like
vegetable or corn oil for browning
1 to 1 1/2 cups soy sauce
3/4 cups white wine or cider vinegar
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 bay leaf2
10 peppercorns, crushed


Heat oil in large dutch oven type pan on med-high heat. Pat chicken pieces well dry with paper towels and rub with salt to season. Brown chicken pieces in oil, turning so that all the sides are browned and the skin is beginning to render. You aren't going for well crisped skin, but just to brown the skin and firm it up a little. You may need to do this in batches.

Once all the chicken is browned, add the garlic to the chicken in the pan and mix for a few moments until you can smell the aroma from the garlic. Add all the remaining ingredients and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes to an hour, until the chicken is tender. Add water if needed and adjust for salt to taste. Sugar can be added if you want a sweeter taste. Serve with the sauce poured over the chicken pieces.

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