My love affair with chicken adobo dates back to 2005. A friend who was born and raised in Guam had made dinner one night and served up a rustic-looking and extremely fragrant chicken dish. I had never eaten or even heard of chicken adobo before. But one bite of the juicy dark meat with all its tanginess, sweetness, and soy-sauce-savoriness and I was hooked.
I begged my friend teach it to me the following night. And then proceeded to make chicken adobo at least once a week for the next 2 years.
Over the years, I've made chicken adobo countless times, tweaking it along the way until I found a go-to version, changing it up with pork on a few occasions. But it wasn't until I went to Purple Yam, a Filipino restaurant in Brooklyn, a couple of months ago that I tried coconut chicken adobo. The sauce was darkened by soy sauce, very tangy and garlicky, a tiny bit spicy, with a faint coconut flavor. It was delicious, and it took a lot of restraint for my friends and I to not put in another order.
Now, there are countless ways to cook chicken adobo in the Philippines, and everyone who makes it has a strong opinion of how to cook it and what should go in it. Should there be coconut milk and/or soy sauce, and if so, how much? Should the meat become crispy via deep-frying, pan-searing, or broiling, or not even get crisp at all? And what about sugar? Even with vinegar, the one constant sauce ingredient, should it be coconut sap, rice, cider, or white distilled?
Of course, after the dinner at Purple Yam, I couldn't not try coconut chicken adobo at home. For the sauce, I decided to make it more coconut-ty by using almost a full can of coconut milk, which gave the braising liquid just enough sweetness for my tastes without needing to add sugar. I used fish sauce for its earthy flavor (though soy sauce can be a substitute) and opted for a light amount of garlic. I also added some paprika and cayenne for a subtle smokiness and color.
I 've always seared the chicken at the beginning of cooking, but this time I pan-seared it at the end. It requires a little more effort, as you need to dry the chicken well or else the oil will spit, but the extra crispy skin is well worth it. (You can also transfer the chicken to a roasting pan and crisp it up under a broiler.)
I love the coconut flavor from this dish, and will definitely use it in place of my regular chicken adobo recipe from time to time. Try this out, and let me know how you like it. And if you have your own way of making chicken adobo, especially if it's an old family recipe, please share in the comments!
Coconut Chicken Adobo
- 2 1/2 pounds (about 8 pieces) bone-in chicken thighs with skin
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce, or substitute soy sauce
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 3/4 cup thick coconut milk
- 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil.
- In a Dutch oven, pot, or deep sauté pan, combine the chicken with the vinegar, water, fish sauce, garlic and bay leaf. (The liquid should almost cover the chicken. If not, add a bit more water.) Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Allow the chicken to simmer, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, until tender but not falling off the bone.
- With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the braising liquid and transfer to a plate. Blot very well with paper towels. Turn the heat up and reduce until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 10 minutes more). Stir in the coconut milk, paprika, cayenne, and pepper.
- Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the base. Add the chicken pieces and sear until golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes on each side (carefully, if there is excess moisture from the chicken that may make the oil spit.) Return the chicken to the sauce to turn so they are coated all around. Transfer the chicken and sauce to a large serving platter or individual plates. Serve hot with a generous amount of rice on the side.