The Adobo Cure

Today I made adobo. I love the days when I make adobo.

A very good friend of mine came to visit today, as she made her way through town on the way to pick her mother up at the airport. I’ve not seen her since she moved to the Maritimes about a year ago, 11 months to be exact – we talk about a whole slew of different things when we get together, and conversations can go on for awhile. I greatly love these types of friendships, where we can sit outside and have a blueberry, nectarine and lime-rhubarb cooler – made with a splash of the rhubarb liqueur that we picked up at the Ironworks Distillery in Lunenberg, N.S., when we first drove out east two years ago, on an impulse decision to go on a road trip towards Cape Breton Island. A trip that will always be one of my favourites, for its stories to tell and gaining a sense of just how wide and vast the great lands of Canada can be.

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My friend has been bugging me for my dad’s chicken adobo recipe, which she first had several years ago during a visit to my family’s annual summer cottage rental. “And remember, if you can send me the recipe!” has been a phrase I’ve read several times, to which I can only respond, “I’ve asked him already, but he never writes down his recipes!”.

Adobo, for me, is one of the wonderfully classic examples of interpreting Filipino cuisine. It is made by hand, with the simplest ingredients, in a manner that takes full advantage of the flavour capabilities of each of its components. Your choice of meat, a souring agent, garlic, bay leaves, and pepper – and depending on who you ask, the addition or not of soy sauce, though personally adobo isn’t at its full complexity without it. Browning to start the Maillard reaction, a long simmer to braise, and the reduction of its sauce – the only way, I believe, to produce a true pot of home-cooked adobo, in all its wondrous savoury glory.

Adobo is regarded with such an amount of disdain and overlooked as such a commonly sub-par staple of Filipino cuisine, that the entire spectrum between love and hate for Filipino adobo has been written. I have had my share of incredibly forgettable, watery and undercooked adobo, and I have had some amazingly palate-tingling plates of the most deliciously crisp, dark-skinned free-range chicken (the closest I can get to cooking with native Tagalog chickens), served atop a bed of steaming white rice dotted with golden chips of garlic. My taste buds scream for that flavour, and the only way to get there was by learning, through many iterations, the best way to prepare adobo.

Today’s version was a success, adapting, as Filipinos are also bound to do, from Marvin Gapultos’ recipe for Classic Chicken Adobo, maintaining the ratios of vinegar to soy sauce – we ate in silence for the first few minutes of our meal. “Right?” I said. My friend looked up from her plate, spoon and fork in hand, and said “Now that you’ve got a recipe, will you please write down what you did?”

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Nastasha's Chicken and Pork Adobo Recipe

Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 6 chicken thighs skin-on, please!
  • ¼ lb pork tenderloin chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 heaping tsp garlic chopped
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup soy sauce Silver Swan brand if possible, at Asian markets
  • ½ cup vinegar white or apple cider
  • Bay leaves 3 small or 2 medium leaves

Instructions

  1. In a (really) hot pan, preferably cast-iron or enamel-coated, drop chicken thighs in skin-side down. You'll want the fat to render and skin to brown nicely, about 3-4 minutes on medium-high heat. Once the chicken is crisp enough that you can flip them with ease, turn thighs over to brown on other side, 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. Brown pork on all sides with the fat left in the pan, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside with the chicken. Drain fat and set aside if you like (great for accompanying garlic fried rice!). Set pan back over the heat.
  3. Combine all other ingredients in a measuring cup with spout. Place chicken and pork back into the pan, and pour the soy sauce and vinegar mixture in. Set heat to medium-low, simmer for 30-35 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
  4. Did I mention that garlic fried rice is pretty much mandatory? (For extra class, slice garlic cloves into thin chips, and fry for a few minutes in aforementioned chicken fat drippings before crumbling over everything. Sliced green onions add great crunch, and colour too).

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