Adobo ahoy!


Every Filipino family has their own adobo recipe. Lucky for the rest of us with none to claim as our own, these recipes are not a fiercely guarded secret. Just ask any Pinoy cook and they’ll be more than happy to share.

This recipe comes from Olivia Dyhouse (through her sister Juana Stewart), although I did sneak in a few more cloves of garlic. But that’s how it is with adobo: you can improvise and experiment to get just the right balance of flavors–especially sour to salt–that dances to the right tune on your tongue.

Here are some variations on adobo I’ve picked up from my research:
-Some cooks add coconut milk, either right at the beginning in the pot, or at the end when the cooking is done.
-For a thicker adobo, try mashing chicken liver to add to the mixture.
-I found a soy sauce-less recipe in “More Family Favorites” a community cookbook compiled by Lakeside Christian Church in Chicago in the early 1970s. Turns out that soy sauce is a later modification thanks to Chinese influence on Filipino cuisine. Traditionalists insist that adobo be seasoned with salt. Aunty Neneng only adds about a tablespoon of soy sauce to her adobo. “Just for color,” she explains.
-This same cookbook revealed a very interesting variation: Chicken Adobo a la Monta. It calls for adding 1/2 cup pineapple cubes, 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes and 1 tablespoon butter to the mix.
-Garlic-lovers will surely love this. Before pan-frying the chicken pieces (see recipe below), sauté more smashed garlic cloves in the oil first. Add one finely sliced medium onion and cook until soft. Set aside and add the sautéed garlic and onions to the finished dish.

Many Filipino cooks swear by Datu Puti brand vinegars–cane, palm or coconut–which are readily available at any Asian food store. Even if you can’t find it, never fear! Any distilled white vinegar and even apple cider vinegar (we all know apples and pork go super together!) work well. Or experiment with more non-traditional French sherry or Japanese rice vinegars for an adobo with your name on it.

Please drop me a comment if you have a special adobo story or recipe to share!

Chicken Adobo

You could call adobo the Philippines’ unofficial national dish, yet it’s more often eaten in homes than in restaurants. There are many types of adobo–chicken (traditionally the legs are used but you can use breast too), pork (loin, spare ribs), beef (stew beef chuck), and liver, too. The frying adds a crispy finish to the meat but you can skip this step if you are ravenous … or just lazy! Adobo keeps well and is one of those dishes that taste better the next day.

Time: 1 hr 15 minutes
Makes: 8 servings 

8 whole chicken legs (about 4 pounds), cut into drumstick and thigh sections
1-1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves
1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, crushed  
3/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons oil
2 stalks green onions, cut into “O”s for garnish (about 1/2 cup, optional)

In a large (6 quart) nonreactive pot or Dutch oven, combine all ingredients except soy sauce and oil and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Add soy sauce and stir to coat chicken evenly. Simmer, covered, another 20 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Transfer chicken to a plate, shaking off as much excess liquid as possible. Pat pieces dry with paper towels.

Raise heat to medium-high and boil sauce until reduced to about 1 cup, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let sauce cool. Remove bay leaves and skim fat from surface.

In a large (10-inch) skillet, heat oil over high heat until hot but just before smoking. Sauté chicken in 4 to 5 batches, turning pieces halfway, until browned evenly on both sides, about 5 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a rimmed platter, pour sauce over. Serve hot with sauce-drizzled rice.


23 thoughts on “Adobo ahoy!

  1. Hi Pat!

    This looks really yummy!

    I’m compiling a list of all the different ways to cook adobo in a quest to find what a true filipino adobo is today, and I’m happy to include your adobo recipe in my article at I hope you don’t mind the link from my site to yours =)

    Keep in touch!

  2. adobong alimango is the best… only a few knows how to cook it…. and my mom is one of them.. sobrang sarap… sabaw pa lang ulam na!

  3. Hi Pat, you may want to check the website and search for “adobo”. You will find several variations of adobo, as well as other interesting information. My own mother makes a really delicious “Adobong Alimango (crabs)”. She uses fresh mud crabs that have lots of roe. I’ve only observed her making it but have not done it on my own. She doesn’t have the recipe written down because she does cooks by rote.

  4. Hi Gonzo, thanks for your input. I’ll have to delve a little bit more into the history behind Asian braises … hmm I smell a story stewing …

  5. my version does away with the bay leaves (sometimes i find them too overpowering) and i use oregano, as my my grandmother has always done. i also add fresh chillies.

    the soy sauce, as pointed out, is a relatively new addition, ostensibly for colour. pre-WW2 adobo recipes used salt only. one theory is soy sauce was added because modern cooks didn’t have the time to cook an adobo down until it released its oils and browned in its own fat.

  6. I just got referred to your blog from The Grinder at

    My grandmother also makes the pork and chicken adobo (with soy sauce). Since becoming vegetarian, it’s probably one of those things I miss the most– especially the surprise of biting into a peppercorn! I’ve actually been experimenting with my grandmother’s recipe and have found that frying cubes of eggplant and tofu then following through on her recipe have yielded the closest veg version yet.

    My grandma also makes a ton of other delicious Filipino dishes; some she’s even vegetarianized for my benefit, like pancit. Thankfully, all Filipino desserts are vegetarian! Anyway, thanks for keeping the cooking of Asian grandmothers’ alive!

  7. Marvin, thanks for your input. I’m going to have to try the coconut milk version just to see for myself but I have a feeling I might be on your side.

    Taj, I’m going to have to find a recipe for squid adobo. Thanks for telling me about it!

    Julioneto, thank you for your reference. I wish I could read your blog!

  8. you can do a combination of chicken and pork w/c makes an even better adobo,especially with a little pork fat.. you can also keep leftover adobo in the freezer and after a few days (or weeks) you can shred the meat and turn it into adobo flakes.. filipinos also make squid adobo, another interesting dish.

  9. Excellent Pat!!!

    I’ve tried to make a coconut milk chicken adobo before and I just did not like it. It wasn’t what I was used to. I much prefer the standard soy/vinegar recipes of adobo.

    And I know some people don’t like the smell of the cooking vinegar, but I love it. It makes me feel like I’m at home with my mother.

  10. It’s very well-written and it made me hungry. When I cook adobo again I’ll light a candle to counteract the strong vinegar smell as my sister suggested. I did not realize there are s0 many variations of adobo. Nice job!

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