Adobo Puti, and general musings on cooking Filipino food
I woke up on New Year’s day, ready to face the world with a renewed outlook on life, resolutions I would never keep, and all those other hippy-dippy kind of thoughts. But then I realized something had been missing from my New Year’s, Christmas, and general December holiday celebrations: I had spent an entire holiday season without a bite of Filipino food. Total, absolute blasphemy! I think I cried a little inside upon my new year’s realization.
Determined to eat my body weight’s worth of Filipino food in the following weeks, I’ve now made caldereta (minus the liver sauce, to my disappointment); eaten a tremendous amount of coronary-inducing favorites like kare-kare, beefsteak, leche flan, lechon kawali, et. al at the buffet(!!!) at Ihaw-Ihaw Grill; (formerly Manila Tokyo) in National City; and am currently simmering my first-ever batch of Adobo Puti, or “white” adobo cooked in coconut milk (Note: I first started this post on 1/10… everything below is post-eating!).
Deciding which adobo recipe to make this week was difficult, especially since I’ve revisited my copy of The Adobo Book for just about the first time since purchasing it two summers ago in Manila. A compendium of over 200 recipes, this edited volume by Reynaldo (Ronnie) Alejandro is Nancy Reyes-Lumen is more than just a cookbook; it’s an oral history collection from storied cooks and ordinary Filipinos alike. I love reading people’s memories of their lola‘s secret recipe for pork adobo, or the lineage of an adobo recipe supposedly direct from ancestors in Spain. If nothing else, it’s an amazing mini-resource for thinking about the influence colonialism (both the Spanish and American varieties) had on the development of Filipino cuisine, particularly on adobo, a dish that bears no resemblance to others that share its name found in Latin America or Spain.
The adobo I usually make, like many in The Adobo Book, came from my family by word of mouth (from my Lolo – grandfather– and mother to be more exact), and has been modified by me over the years. I don’t work from a printed recipe, and won’t even try to write it down here, because it’s all done by smell, sight, and whim. It’s usually chicken (sadly, I’ve yet to make adobo with pork that isn’t a dry mess- I never am able to procure liempo, the pork belly with fat attached, that is essential to good pork adobo); always with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaf, and whole black peppercorns as a base; sometimes I add sugar and onions; and frequently cut yellow potatoes too. Mine is more ‘wet’ than most (meaning there’s a lot of liquid left over), and I don’t fry my chicken beforehand or afterwards (some swear by this step, but I’ve just never done it). I’d like to think I make a pretty damn good chicken abobo, but my Lolo’s version still trumps mine.. and tastes completely different even if we’ve used the same ingredients.
( Personal Note: I never knew adobo was usually made without potatoes- it’s the version I grew up with and never questioned it. I found out later that the potatoes are something that my grandparents added when they were raising my mother and her seven siblings in the Philippines; there wasn’t enough meat to go around, so potatoes were added as a filler to make the meal stretch. I’ve made ‘adobo potatoes and vegetables’ for vegetarian friends before, and love to eat my adobo-ed potatoes even without the meat!)
So, branching out to try a new adobo recipe I’ve never eaten myself is a bit of stretch… but I was pretty pleased with my results. I think next time I’ll use more chicken (only used 5 drumsticks, which made this batch very ‘wet’), add some red or green peppers, the chili that was optional in the recipe, and go up on the ginger. My version actually reminded me a lot of my family’s arroz caldo, even though coconut milk isn’t the base of that dish. It’s really interesting to me how the addition of lemongrass and spices would’ve made this similar to a Thai curry. I’m wondering if they have similar origins, since this adobo puti comes from the southern regions of the Philippines, where more trading with what was known as Java (now Indonesia) and other southeast Asian countries went on. In any case, I’ll try refining this recipe over time to really make it my own… the best adobo is always personal to the chef, I think.
Chicken Adobo in Coconut Milk (recipe from Ronnie Alejandro, in The Adobo Book, eds. R. Alejandro and N. Reyes-Lumen)
2 Tbs garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
1 whole chicken, cut into 8-10 pieces My note: you can substitute 8-10 pieces of thigh and drumstick, bone-in for best flavor
3 cups coconut milk, halved
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ginger, grated
3 tbs vinegar
1 small piece chili, optional
In a soup pot, saute garlic and onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add chicken pieces, 2 cups coconut milk, black pepper, salt, ginger, and vinegar. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered until chicken is very tender, about 1 hour and ten minutes (I recommend at least 1 1/2 hours for the chicken to be falling off the bone). Add chili (optional to taste) to make dish hot and spicy. Add remaining coconut milk, stir and simmer 2 to 3 minutes until sauce is thick and oily. Serve hot over rice.