Dish of the week: chicken adobo

Carl Smith Valdez brings the taste of home from Philippines with the recipe for chicken adobo.

Carl Smith Valdez
12th March 2020
Image: Jonathan Valencia on Pixabay
Chicken adobo is a delicious, easy and popular dish, originating from the Philippines. The term adobo derives from the Spanish phrase adobar, meaning “marinate”.

The tasty delicacy is traditionally cooked with vinegar and soy sauce. This was practiced in the past by many countries that usually experienced high humidity and hot temperatures to extend the shelf life of food, before freezers and refrigerators even existed.

The dish was first recorded in 1613 by Pedro de San Buenaventura on a dictionary he was compiling. He named it adobo de los naturales, translating as “adobo of the natives.” Yet, adobo bears resemblance to Mexican and Spanish dishes of the same name, which has led to some questioning its national identity. The dish was carried by the Spaniards on their voyage to survive in their ships. Adobo’s preserving qualities was a means of survival when the Spanish conquers sailed for several months.

However, Borja Sanchez, a Spanish culinary scientist has revealed at Ateneo University in 2019 that the dish already existed before the Spanish invaded the Philippines. Archives of ancient cookbooks such as Libro de Cocina by Ruperto Nola, published in 1529 and El Arte de la Cozina by Diego Granado in 1599 shows its strong presence in pre-colonial Philippines. Its original name was never recorded and through cultural imperialism, the Spanish word remained.

Adobo flourished in various countries beyond it as a cooking or preserving method; it now also translates into a specific flavour. Spain’s interaction with the Philippines and other countries has undoubtedly influenced the country’s cuisines. The traditional ingredients of the Spanish cuisine consisted of spices from around the world, including the Philippines. It seems that the dish was cursed from colonialism, but this serves as a blessing in disguise. Through globalisation, the food culture brought strong connection and knowledge between two countries. Variations of adobo would not have existed without one’s passion to explore the world.

Ingredients: (serves 4 people)

  • 2 lbs chicken
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 4 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 8 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 3 pieces dried bay leaves
  • 1 medium onion (thinly sliced)
  • 5 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorn
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  1. In a large bowl, combine the crushed garlic and soy sauce with the chicken. Marinate the chicken for about an hour. Alternatively, the marinated chicken can be covered and refrigerated for approximately 18-24 hours to submerge the chicken with additional flavour.
  2. Heat the cooking pot over medium heat, add the cooking oil.
  3. When the oil is hot enough, sauté the chopped onions until softened.
  4. Fry each side of the marinated chicken for two minutes.
  5. Pour the marinade and add water. Bring it to boil.
  6. Add the whole peppercorn and bay leaves.
  7. Leave the chicken to simmer for about 35-40 minutes. This will make the chicken tender and will extract the flavour from the marinade.
  8. Add vinegar. Stir for 10 minutes.
  9. Add the sugar and stir. Serve and enjoy!

Chicken adobo is a perfect dinner for friends and family. It is a simple to make meal, only requiring a few ingredients available at any supermarket store. Any cuts of chicken can be used, and the meal can also be easily cooked in one pot. The sweet and sour aroma as it simmers will leave you eager to try it immediately once it is ready!

Adobo is best served with warm white rice. The combination of the mouth-watering sauce over the rice brings more flavour into the dish. To make it more appetising and appealing, vegetables such as carrots and potatoes can be added. This will add strong flavours and colours into an already tasty, nutritious and filling meal.

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