Friday, March 14, 2014

Filipino Chicken Adobo

Last Year's Post: Egg Gratin
Two years Ago:  Swordfish en Papillote

If you ever find yourself in a state of peace and clarity with the world such that it makes you nervous, as in things are going too well so something bad must be about to happen, I can fix that for you.  Just start pondering the word "adobo" and your mind will get so twisted up, it will forget how much fun it was having.  Really, what is adobo?  Isn't it some sort of Mexican spice mix?  But apparently the same word is used for Hawaiian and Filipino meat-based dishes with vinegar that have absolutely nothing to do with the Mexican spice mix, or do they? And what about canned chipotles in adobo? See, you just forgot about peace and clarity, didn't you?

As with all conundrums, a little Google search reveals the answers to the universe.  In this case, blame it all on the Spanish.  The word adobo means "marinade, sauce or seasoning" and originally was a Spanish food preservation method that involved submerging raw meat into a vinegar-based sauce.  As the Spanish traveled around the world, so did the term. In Mexico and Puerto Rico it came to mean a salt-based seasoning mix in addition to the tomato-based sauce used to stew jalapenos (chipotles).  In Hawaii and the Philippines  the Spaniards encountered an indigenous cooking process that involved stewing with vinegar that reminded them of their own process so they called it adobo too, even though it's really not the same.

Confused yet?

Let's just say I've tried Hawaiian Chicken Adobo and love the taste although I can see how it might be a bit too vinegary for some people, so I was very interested to try this variation from Luzon (the largest island in the Philippines) where pretty much everything contains coconut in some form.  Adobo is so popular that it's the national dish of the Philippines, and chicken is one of the most popular versions. This recipe is adapted from America's Test Kitchen where the liner notes state that the coconut milk tempers the acidity of the vinegar and the saltiness of the soy sauce, bringing the dish into balance.

A note about boneless skinless chicken thighs - I've noticed considerable size differences from one brand to another.  If your chicken thighs are large, cut them in half to make them easier to work with (and serve), and cut down the number of thighs in the recipe to 6 rather than 8.

Some adobo recipes call for adding the garlic cloves whole, which doesn't make sense to me.  Who wants to eat a whole garlic clove?  Others call for crushing but not mincing or grating the garlic, so I made sure I really crushed the dickens out of it before adding it to the sauce.  By the way, don't worry about the amount of garlic (6 cloves) - the flavor is very subtle in the finished dish.

When I previously tried Hawaiian Chicken Adobo, it was very salty due to the soy sauce and a long marinating time.  For this recipe I used low-sodium soy sauce, and found it actually needed a touch of salt at the table to bring out the coconut, vinegar and garlic flavors a bit.  That's a good thing because you can add it to your taste.  I thought this was an excellent, easy, and unusual chicken dish and was happy to have tried the national dish of the Philippines.  Cooking is an adventure.

p.s. Next time I think I'll add some toasted unsweetened coconut as a garnish in addition to the green onions to heighten the coconut taste and for some toasty crunch.

printable recipe
Filipino Chicken Adobo
Serves 4

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk (unsweetened)
¾ cup cider vinegar
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 green onions, sliced thin
Hot cooked rice

Combine chicken thighs and soy sauce in a bowl, then cover and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the marinade and place in a large saucepan.  Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl with the soy sauce (except the green onions and rice) and stir to combine, then add the sauce to the pan with the chicken.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes uncovered.  Flip the chicken pieces and simmer for an addition 15 minutes, then remove the chicken from the pan.  Thicken the sauce over medium-high heat for approximately five minutes.

Serve the chicken and sauce over hot cooked rice and garnish with green onions.

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