Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Filipino Chicken Adobo

SmartCooks here.  

Summer arrived officially at 7:09 p.m. today, June 20, 2012.  Its arrival coincided with the start of a trio of 'Triple H' days -- hot, hazy, humid -- in the Nation's Capital.  The weekly Wednesday noon yoga session held on Parliament Hill was a good intro to the bikram (hot, sweaty) style of yoga.  

Basically, not weather for cooking except perhaps a light meal late in the day .... so chicken jumped to mind and the perfect opportunity to continue my global tour of national signature chicken dishes.  Today the Philippines Chicken Adobo joins the ever-growing list of low-fat chicken dishes from China, Thailand, Malaysia, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Korea and Japan. 

Origins of Chicken Adobo dishes:

Chicken Adobo is the traditional, national Filipino Chicken dish.  It is amazingly simple to prepare, basically chicken braised in soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic.  Rasa Malaysia does a wonderful of showing off the final dish (compliments of 80 Breakfasts), with its sweet-and-sour aroma.  

'Adobo' is a Spanish word for seasoning or marinade.  Some history texts say that when the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the late 16th/early 17th century, they found a cooking process that involves cutting up a whole chicken, marinating the meat in vinegar and garlic, browning in oil and garlic, and simmering for an hour or more until soft in the marinade.  Dishes prepared this way became known as 'adobo'.   

Adobo style cooking was a preferred method for cooking because the cooked meat kept well without refrigeration as the vinegar helps to inhibit the growth of bacteria.  

Making Chicken Adobo* (Note vegetarian option below) 

Various cooks extol the versatility and adaptability of this dish.  For example, some use primarily dark meat from chicken legs and thighs, while others use all parts of the chicken. I prefer chicken breasts (heresy but MINUS the skin), recognizing that I may lose some of the depth of flavour but, for me, it's the leaner, lower fat protein that I use. 

If you use chicken legs and thighs, I suggest taking the extra time to remove as much fat as possible.  The slow cooker is also an option and there are recipes for cooking it this way at the Perfect Pantry.  

There is no exact science in terms of the ratio of vinegar and soy sauce to be used.  Generally, cooks suggest 60/40 (i.e, 60% vinegar and 40% soy sauce).  Recipes experiment with vinegars.  Most suggest white vinegar; some use unseasoned rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar.  If red wine vinegar is used, a richer, deeper taste results.  I prefer low-sodium soy sauce but again it is up to individual preference (and sodium sensitivities).

I have also adapted the recipe by adding ginger, pearl/sweet onions or star anise into the sauce.  Bottom line, variations are your choice! 

Chicken Adobo:
1/2 cup white vinegar or rice or cider vinegar 
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce 
3-4 lbs of chicken (any combo of chicken legs, thighs, breasts) 
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
3-4 cloves garlic, depending on preference can do more, slightly pressed  
1 yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges 
1/2 cup water (may need slightly more) 
2 bay leaves
2 T olive oil 
Fresh pepper 

Three basic steps: 
1) Marinating:  Prepare the chicken by cutting off any visible fat and pricking the meat to let the marinade penetrate the meat.  In a large bowl, mix the soy sauce, vinegar, black peppercorns, garlic, onion, bay leaf and chicken pieces, then marinate for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator.  Remove chicken pieces and set marinade aside.  
2) Browning:  Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté marinated chicken pieces until the chicken is light brown.  Discard any fats that emerge.  
3) Cooking:  Put the chicken, marinade and water into a pot, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, remove cover, and simmer for 40-50 minutes until the chicken become tender (can pull it away from the bone easily),  and sauce is thickened and reduced.  

The dish improves by resting for a bit.  Season with salt and fresh pepper as desired.  Can garnish with scallions.  Enjoy with quinoa or rice.  

* Vegetarian Option:  Tempeh Adobo 

Since adobo is a method of cooking involving the pillars of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and pepper, it can easily be done with a variety of vegetables and/or tofu and tempeh.  One recipe, for example, used 6 cups of cut up eggplant and adjusted cooking times.  

Another recipe mimicked the 'chicken' look by using a tempeh block.  That recipe can be found here.

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