I became addicted to adobo while living in Brooklyn. Albert, my roommate from Guam, made chicken adobo one night and handed me a plate with some fat chicken thighs, a thick brown sauce with onions, and a clump of rice. Keep in mind that at this time, I was making dainty hors d’oeuvres everyday in culinary school and hadn’t eaten good home-cooked braised meat in months. One bite and I was in heaven.
“What’s in this?” I asked.
“Soy sauce, vinegear, honey, pepper.”
“No, there’s something else,” I insisted.
He whipped out a small spice bottle. Mrs. Dash Original Blend. Just what his mom used to use.
Now, I know Filipino and South Pacific families each have their own ways to cook adobo, a way of stewing meat in soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaf, and black pepper. Albert’s method was not the precise formula of cookbooks. He sautéed his chicken legs and wings until crispy and brown, then threw in a rice-measuring cup filled a third of the way with vinegar and two-thirds with soy sauce. He dumped in another rice cup full of water. After 15 minutes he took a bear-shaped bottle of Busy Bee honey and squeezed enough onto the chicken to make your teeth tingle just to watch. He threw Mrs. Dash into the skillet like he was scattering seeds. This haphazard cooking produced some of the most sublime chicken I had ever tasted.
I made chicken adobo, in this exact manner, every week for the next year. It was easy and hot comfort food, perfect for dinner in a chilly apartment. When I ran out of Mrs. Dash, a single sharp bay leaf provided enough flavor to do without the spice blend. I substituted brown sugar for honey, and tried cayenne, paprika, and chilis.
Recently, I started making pork adobo instead of chicken, mostly for convenience. One-inch pork cubes take half the time of chicken thighs to cook. You can use pork belly or spare ribs or another fatty cut. I threw in some cherry tomatoes, though I’ve seen other versions with button mushrooms or eggplant. This pork adobo recipe is adaptable and easy. And who doesn’t have some soy sauce and vinegar handy?
- 1 1/2 pounds pork belly or spare ribs, chopped to 1-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup vinegar (white or apple cider)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 8 to 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
- In a medium to large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat and cook the pork until brown and crispy on the outside, about 3 minutes.
- Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are caramelized, about 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, water, bay leaf, paprika, and black pepper. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened. Stir in the brown sugar to melt.
- Add cherry tomatoes and cook for another minute. Serve with rice.