Edible Histories: Adobo

MILA BARRY, Staff Writer, Editor

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As the holiday season ushers in a time of travel and family gatherings, food begins to take center stage.  Neighbors give cookies and grandparents dig up ancient recipes, but in the midst of the grandiose comestible chaos daily meals still need to be prepared. 

This month in Edible Histories we’re exploring adobo, the Filipino classic perfect for weeknight dinners and Christmas parties alike. 

Adobo has been a staple of Filipino food culture since long before the rise of Spanish power in the Pacific, but the name hails from Spain.  Conquistadors followed Ferdinand Megellan to the Philippines in the 16th century and asserted control over the Asian island. In a process called lexical imperialism the term adobo was derived from the Spanish word for marinade, adobar.  In 1913, Pedro de San Buenaventura first recorded the dish, calling it adobo de naturales. 

The original Filipino word for the dish is lost to time.

So what is adobo, exactly? Put simply, it’s a vinegar-braised protein product served over white rice.  Usually the protein is chicken, but it can also be beef, fish, pork, etc. Additional variations include, Adobong Pusit (made with squid and squid ink), Adobo sa Gata (made with coconut milk), Adobong Malutong (made with fried and shredded meat). 

Classically, the vinegar base is accompanied by soy sauce, peppercorns, bay leaves, and garlic.  The dish is then simmered over low heat until tender. This process lends further proof that adobo is a uniquely Filipino dish.  Historically, “moist-heat” steaming and boiling methods kept food from spoiling in the tropical climate. The use of an acid in the sauce had a similar effect. 

Today there are as many variations of adobo as there are cooks in the Philippines.  The recipe below is my own family recipe, passed down from my grandfather, who immigrated to New York from the Philippines in the 50s. 

Classic Chicken Adobo

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken (or equivalent in bone-in thighs/legs)
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (diced)
  • 1 bay leaves
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. peppercorns

Directions

  • Put all ingredients together in a pot.
  • Bring pot to a full boil with cover half off.
  • Boil at medium/high heat until most of the liquid is evaporated.  This will take between 30-40 minutes. If you’d like a little more sauce with the chicken you can add a little more of the liquid ingredients before leaving it to boil.
  • Serve over rice.