I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but one thing I really wanted to do this year is cook more Filipino food. I’ve never really cooked Filipino food, aside from attempts at chicken adobo in college or simple breakfasts of eggs and garlic fried rice with whatever meat was lying around (hot dogs, corned beef, SPAM, etc.) that reminded me of waking up on Sunday mornings to my dad’s cooking. Since I left home, my main connection to Filipino food has been at family parties around Christmastime or some of the restaurants that are all over the Bay Area.
Adobo is the one Filipino food aside from lumpia and pancit that most non-Filipinos have heard of or tried, and it’s considered the national dish of the Philippines. There are so many variations on adobo and every Filipino’s experience with it is so personal that it’s impossible to have a definitive recipe. Sometimes the protein changes (chicken, pork, squid), the soy/sauce vinegar ratio is a matter of personal taste, and you can either cook off most of the braising liquid (like my dad) or leave plenty of sauce to spoon onto your rice (my preference).
A couple months ago, I picked up a copy of Memories of Philippine Kitchens, an excellent and beautiful cookbook written by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan of Cendrillon, a Filipino/Pan-Asian restaurant in New York City. While purists may be put off by Cendrillon’s fine dining and fusion pedigrees, the book is a comprehensive overview of Filipino cuisine and its diversity throughout the various regions in the Philippines.
For example, Cendrillon’s chicken adobo recipe includes coconut milk, which is prevalent in cuisine from the Bicol region of the Philippines where Chef Dorotan hails. I’d never heard of using coconut milk in adobo and wasn’t sure if it would overpower the dish, but the results were wonderful and the coconut milk ends up being a nice subtle background flavor.
The stars of every adobo dish are soy sauce and vinegar. Kikkoman is the only soy sauce we use at home, so I varied things up by trying out different types of vinegar. I made this recipe with white vinegar, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and Filipino cane vinegar (Datu Puti’s sukang maasim). I thought the rice wine vinegar was a bit too strong, while the white and cider vinegar’s were both solid. Of all the batches I made, I think the best results came with the cane vinegar.
So I ended up tweaking Cendrillon’s recipe a bit, opting to use chicken thighs and legs instead of a whole chicken and omitting the bird’s eye chili’s because I didn’t have any, and I also added a tad more soy sauce. I think this is the recipe I’ll be using whenever I get an adobo craving. Here’s you go…
CHICKEN ADOBO A LA CENDRILLON
1 1/4 cup vinegar (any kind…my preference is for cane vinegar)
1 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup soy sauce
12 garlic cloves (peeled)
3 Bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
6 chicken thighs (or mix of thighs and legs)
- Mix marinade ingredients in a bowl or zip-top bag. Add chicken pieces to the marinade and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Place marinade and chicken in a pan, casserole or Dutch oven. Arrange chicken pieces skin side down. Bring to boil over high heat and then reduce heat and simmer covered for at least 30 minutes. (I tend to go for 45 minutes). Be sure to turn the chicken halfway through so the skin side is up when you finish cooking.
- Transfer chicken to a lined baking sheet. Turn up the heat to medium high and reduce the sauce until it thickens to your liking. While you’re reducing the sauce, broil or pan fry the chicken pieces to crisp up the skin (I prefer broiling).
- When the sauce is ready, return chicken to the sauce and cook until it’s just warmed through.
- Serve with chicken adobo with rice and make sure to drizzle some sauce on your rice to maximize your adobo experience.
Adobo is one of those dishes that’s even better the next day, so you might even want to make this a day ahead, but honestly, I doubt you’ll be able control yourself. :-)