For me one of the essential food "quests" -- those back burner searches for some beloved/remembered food or recipe that never quite get satisfied -- is for adobo. For those who don't know, adobo is the national dish of the Philippines, in its simplest configuration just meat cooked with vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic (although for me, black pepper is also a fundamental ingredient). As a half-Filipino, I grew up eating the stuff, which was usually cooked by my mom, occasionally by my grandmother or an aunt. This culinary experience is probably the extent of my connection to Flip culture -- maybe that helps explains the dish's significance to me?
I've talked extensively with my mother about making adobo, which is obviously helpful (especially since the dish I'm trying to recreate is hers, or at least my memory of hers) but perhaps not as authoritative as you'd think. My mom is herself always changing her recipes, finding new ways to make adobo less fatty or less salty, depending on whatever health concern she has at the moment. Her adobo has definitely evolved, which means the recipes and suggestions I get now arent necessarily satisfying. I've also consulted other relatives, friends, numerous cookbooks, and the internet.
At any rate, I'm going to be posting three different recipes for adobo this week. Each recipe is different from the others and represents for me a completely different interpretation of adobo. I won't tell you which recipe I like best (that might be dispositive, for those cooking along at home) until I've posted all three, and even then the answer may not be clear.
The first recipe is for chicken adobo.
several chicken thighs and legs
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 cup water
freshly ground black pepper
a bit of vegetable oil
Trim the fat if you like -- I find that this particular recipe can be very fatty. I personally would never remove thee skin, since I have such fond memories of eating adoboed chicken skin as a kid, but do as you need to do!
This recipe is basically a fricasee. Preheat your oven to 300F. In a large ovenproof pan or dutch oven, saute the garlic in the bit of oil (not too much, since thighs and legs are so fatty) and as it starts to turn golden add and saute the chicken. The goal is to brown it without burning it or the garlic -- this requires a lot of movement. Generously pepper the chicken on every side as you saute it. When the chicken is somewhat browned, add the liquid ingredients and let them boil for a minute or so. Make sure to coat the chicken in the liquid. Cover, and throw it in the oven for 30 minutes.
When it comes out, it should be done. There should be a substantial amount of liquid left, and if you want you can thicken it up some before serving. Serve with jasmine rice and tomato wedges, spooning the meaty, garlicky liquid over the rice.
Adobo famously gets better with age, so make sure you hang on to the leftovers.