Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Chicken Adobo Experiment


Maybe you also saw this piece in the New York Times Magazine this past weekend?  These recipes almost always look intriguing, but it's rare for me to run right out and buy the ingredients for something like I did for this. I don't know what it was about it, but I just had to make this, NOW.  I'm glad I did, too.  It was absolutely delicious, and pretty darned easy.  It was something completely different for me, and I don't run across too many meals I can say that about these days.  It's also a great way to use chicken thighs and legs - which generally cook up a little too rubbery for me in any preparation but a braise, and you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry already - though you may have to buy another bottle of rice vinegar. (It uses a whole one.)

I modified the recipe to use the whole can of coconut milk and - inspired by the article -  added a few ingredients of my own to give it a little zing.  The result was rich, tangy, spicy, complex and strangely addictive. I was inspired enough to run right over here and type this up - both to share it with you fabulous people, and to make sure I don't forget what I did, since I definitely plan to make it again!

Chicken Adobo
adapted from Sam Sifton, who in turn adapted it from Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan of the Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn.

1 can coconut milk  (I used regular, but I am pretty sure light would also be fine)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1½ cups rice vinegar (one 12 ounce bottle)
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar*
1 Tablespoon of good balsamic vinegar*
1/2 tsp ground red pepper*
1/2 tsp turmeric*
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and cut into chunks roughly the size of the garlic cloves*
12 whole garlic cloves, peeled  (you could probably use 4-6 and smash them but leave them whole for the same effect)
2 whole serrano chilis or other hot chilis (original recipe calls for Bird chilis) split open and seeds removed with a paring knife. 
3 bay leaves
several grinds of freshl black pepper

3 to 4 pounds (8-10 pieces) bone-in chicken thighs.

Jasmine rice

1. Combine all ingredients with chicken in a large 5 quart dutch oven or stock pot.  Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. 

2. Place pot containing chicken and marinade on the stove over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and tender, around 30-40 minutes.

3.  Remove chicken pieces from pot and place on a foil lined sheet pan - set aside.  Skim excess fat from sauce, and use a slotted spoon to remove garlic cloves, ginger, chilis and bay leaves.  Simmer sauce over medium-high heat until it reduces and thickens slightly, about 10-15 minutes.   While the sauce simmers, preheat the broiler and cook the rice according to package directions. 

4. When the sauce is thickened and the rice is ready, broil the chicken pieces for about 5 minutes, until they begin to brown and caramelize.  To serve, spoon rice into shallow bowls, top with chicken, and pour sauce over. 

* = my additions
photo credit - NY Times


  1. yum! i love chicken adobo. this will be in my menu plan next week.
    thanks for reminding me.

  2. As a Filipino (born and bred) and an admitted Adobo purist, I find so many things wrong with this. It's one thing to adapt a recipe to suit your tastes (which is perfectly acceptable, btw), but to muddle a perfectly good recipe with too many additional ingredients--ingredients that have NO BUSINESS being in Adobo*--is quite another. While I have no doubt that you cooked some delicious chicken, I resent that you are calling it Chicken Adobo, as it bears little to no resemblance to my beloved chicken dish. Looks more like a curry to me. Maybe you should call it that instead? Sorry Alice Q., I don't mean to sound overly critical of you (and coincidentally, Sam Sifton as well), just protective of our National Dish.

    (* never mind coconut milk, and brown sugar...but balsamic vinegar? And turmeric! Really??)


  3. Denise - did you read the article? This is exactly what he talks about! I have no doubt this is not a traditional Adobo recipe - and I'm sorry if it bothers you - but it really was delicious. To be honest, I put in so little of the balsamic vinegar and turmeric that they were probably not all that noticeable - but the balsamic was intended to compliment the soy and rice vinegar and add a little sweetness, and the turmeric was intended to add color - which it didn't really, but since I put it in, I figured I better include it in the recipe!

  4. Thanks for sharing- going to make this for our Sunday dinner;)
    Check out this link on Adobos and it's origin-

  5. Like I said, I had no doubt it was delicious. And yes, I read the article. While it's true that no two Filipinos will cook Adobo the same, and every region has its own version of the dish, there is at least one thing they all have in common: each version is made with locally available ingredients. Balsamic vinegar (or even apple cider vinegar) is NOT a locally available ingredient, and therefore has no place in any version of Adobo, where the most important ingredient is the vinegar. In fact, we don't even use rice vinegar...palm or coconut is best. Cane vinegar will also work. There should be no added sweetness or color to Adobo; the sweetness should come from the vinegar after it's cooked down, and the color should come from the soy sauce (Filipino soy sauce only please). When it's perfectly balanced, it should taste intensely tangy, salty, and chicken-y all at the same time. It's a straight-forward dish, and it's recipe should reflect that.

    I'd also like to point out that the recipe Sifton adapts his from, is by two chefs whose cuisine is described as "Filipino Fusion." Though it's good that Filipino food is reaching a wider audience this way, certain compromises were undoubtedly made in order to suit Western palates. I would call Besa and Dorotan's version of Adobo somewhat authentic, at best.

    So what do you get when you take a somewhat authentic recipe, and tweaked it and tweaked it and tweaked it some more? Not Adobo, that's for sure. Not anymore. So why call it that?


  6. i seriously love that you did this. and can't wait to make it. thanks for being an awesome taste tester.
    ps. love the new blog header, don't think i've commented on it yet. pretty snazzy.

  7. Im a filipina married to a White American. He loves my adobo but he puts a twist on the original recipe because he is bothered by the sourness of vinegar. Instead of regular soy sauce he uses Teriyaki sauce to soften the tangy flavor. The original ingredients of Adobo is vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, dried bay leaf and black pepper. Marinate the meat overnight and then cook it the following day. It gives better flavor to the meat when you marinate it first. I also add some other ingredients like Italian seasoning, dried star anise and sesame oil, to suit the flavor I want.
    I believe there is no right or wrong thing in cooking as long as edible, however calling your recipe as Adobo may be misguiding to those who really wants to copy it, you may want call it Adobo INSPIRED recipe.
    The ginger and sugar may give an Asado flavor,
    whereas the tumeric with coconut milk gives the curry flavor. Not to offend you but your Adobo recipe is really way far from the authentic Pilipino Adobo. If I were you I will call it Adobo Inspired recipe.
    Thanks for posting and enjoy your cooking.

  8. Who cares what the hell is in it, as long as its yummy, let everyone put in it what they may!!!! Dont be so protective...

  9. That's why it was called Adobo Experiment!!! Hello, this woman was trying...

  10. Hi Alice
    First of all, what a great recipe with a twist! Besa and Dorotan used to own Cendrillon (another Filipino fusion resto) in NYC's SoHo before they closed and opened up Purple Yam in Brooklyn. They are also authors of the cookbook "Memories of Philippine Kitchens" which you might enjoy.

    The recipe is similar to the one I use but with substitutions (balsamic and rice for white vinegar and the addition of serrano chilis and red pepper). The coconut milk is also a regional variation. The use of turmeric is also quite nice to add color. My mother (as well as myself) use ginger and annatto powder to give it our adobo a reddish color and a different taste.

    There are adobo recipes out there that also call for the addition of coconut milk. There is no right or wrong way to do adobo. Everyone has different tastes. Don't let the haters stop you.

    Kudos to you for trying out the recipe! :)

    i'm a 2nd gen Filipina American and I'm all for authentic recipes as well as fusion...

    Unfortunately Filipino food gets short shrift in the culinary world.

  11. I read the recipe just today in the NY Times magazine.. I've been toting it around. It's nearly 2 am and I've just put my Adobo together to marinate for tomorrow. I read the article several times. It might sound lame but I couldn't decide which fiery chili to use.. so I got some chili garlic sauce *LeeKumLee* and Hot Chili Oil by "Dynasty". Seems like a pretty spicy combination. For the bok choy I am allergic to sesame oil... is there a suggestions for a substitution. I'm actually allergic to coconut too.. I am hoping that the cooked down coconut milk won't bother me. I thought the recipe and article were very interesting. I can't wait to eat it tomorrow (or rather later today.).

  12. I'm a year late in commenting here. Turmeric is indeed an "authentic" ingredient in Adobo. Batangueno Adobo'ng Dilaw is made with the rhizomes of turmeric - which grows wild all over the Philippines. It is an adobo that predates Hispanic and Chinese adulterations and uses only indigenous ingredients. My family was originally from Batangas and my father remembers eating it with the people of the "bundok" when he and his family where hiding from the Japanese during WWII. This is a true and pure Filipino adobo.

    Try making an adobo within purely Malay (Filipino) constraints - no achuete, no chilies, no black peppercorn, no bay leaf, no soya, etc. Only coconut vinegar or cane vinegar, pork, turmeric root (powder can be substituted), ginger root, garlic, wild onion (or shallots) and salt. It is delicious.