Have you ever eaten Filipino food? I hadn’t until I started testing recipes for this post. I tried googling Filipino restaurants in Massachusetts and there’s only one! More research and it seems that there aren’t a lot of Filipino restaurants in America, yet according to the Census Bureau, Filipinos are the second-largest Asian group in the USA, totaling 3.4 million people (based on 2010 estimates). The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands in southeast Asia, not far from Thailand, whose cuisine we all know well and love. I can’t say why Filipino food isn’t more prominent in the culinary scene here, but I will tell you that If this adobo chicken is any indication, Filipino food rocks, and we should all be enjoying it!
It’s still snowy and cold in Boston and I’m still craving big pots of flavorful, falling-apart stew. So it’s been great to have an excuse to stay in and play in the kitchen. When I’m figuring out what recipe to do next, I love to read about different countries and their indigenous dishes. The Filipino “adobo” technique grabbed me – it’s a process of stewing foods – chicken, meat or vegetables – in a garlicky, peppery vinegar sauce. By the way, it has nothing to do with the other adobo – the Spanish one with chipotles.
I knew I would love this dish. Chicken adobo is loaded with a bunch of my favorites ingredients – garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, and black pepper. Slow simmering causes the sauce to thicken and intensify and the chicken gets tender to the point of almost falling apart.
A whole head of garlic is easy to peel when you use the flattening-with-a-knife technique. Put one clove at a time under the side of the blade of a large heavy knife. Use the heel of your hand to pound the knife once or twice until the clove is flattened a bit. That loosens the papery skin so you can easily pull it off.
The cloves are left bruised and tender and easy to chop.
The chicken is briefly marinated in vinegar and garlic, then browned, then simmered with onions, garlic, vinegar, soy, and a good amount of black pepper. By the way – during every step of this recipe, the smell is intoxicating – even my 16-year-old was lured downstairs to ask ‘what’s cooking?’
The adobo cooking method was originally invented as a way to preserve meat before there was refrigeration. Harmful bacteria can’t survive in an acid environment so vinegar was, and still is, a perfect natural preservative for foods. But adobo has stood the test of time and the advent of refrigeration – it remains extremely popular in Filipino cuisine – some call chicken adobo the national dish of the Philippines.
Serve the chicken adobo with fluffy rice. If you want a green garnish, chopped cilantro would be great. Enjoy!
- 4 pounds chicken thighs (with bones and skin)
- 1½ cups distilled white vinegar
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or other cooking oil
- 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced (1½ cups)
- 1 head of garlic, cloves separated, flattened, peeled, and roughly chopped. (about 6 tablespoons chopped)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce or Filipino fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 dried bay leaves
- Marinate Chicken: Put chicken in a non-reactive bowl or casserole. Combine the vinegar and 1 tablespoon of the chopped garlic. Pour over chicken and turn to coat. Marinate in the fridge or in a cool place for 30 minutes. Remove chicken from the marinade, allowing excess to drip back into the bowl and transfer chicken to a clean plate. Reserve the marinade.
- Brown Chicken & Aromatics: Heat oil over medium heat in a large dutch oven or another heavy pot with a lid. Pat chicken lightly with a paper towel to dry. Brown in batches (4-5 pieces at a time), starting skin side down for 3-4 minutes. Turn and brown for just a minute on the other side. Transfer to a clean plate. Repeat with all the chicken. Pour out all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pot. (hint: It's easier if you pour it all out, into a small bowl or coffee cup, and then add back the 2 tablespoons) Set the heat to medium-low, add onions and the rest of the garlic to the pot and sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are softened.
- Simmer Chicken: Return the chicken to the pot along with any accumulated juices, vinegar-garlic marinade, soy sauce, fish sauce, black pepper, bay leaves and ¼ cup of water. Toss chicken with onions and sauce to coat. Bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer. Cover and cook at a low steady simmer for 30 minutes.
- De-fat the sauce before continuing (I don't like a lot of unnecessary fat in my food so this is a step I often do when I'm cooking a soup or stew, though it's not required.) Turn off heat for 5 minutes to let the fat rise to the surface. Use a teaspoon to carefully skim off several spoonfuls of fat. The fat will be clear vs the sauce, which is brown. No need to get all the fat. You can always skim more when the dish is done, if you like.
- Finish: Return the pot to a simmer. Toss chicken to coat with sauce. Cover and simmer gently for 30 more minutes, until the chicken is tender and the sauce is a rich brown color. Serve over rice.