Everything You Need to Know About Adobo
It's hard not to love the super flavorful Filipino adobo!
The Filipino Adobo. No other dish represents Filipino food more than this dish, with a multinational origin that has spanned centuries as well as having more variations than we have regions. Everyone has an opinion on what makes a great adobo, and none of them are wrong. Whether wet or dry, sweet or savory, we've consolidated and absorbed the knowledge of cooks all over the country in how to best cook this beloved Filipino dish.
What is Adobo?
Adobo is one of the most popular Filipino dishes. While there is no official Philippine national dish, it certainly is among the top dishes that many a Filipino might argue is the best dish to represent the country. And just as its status as a national dish is up for discussion, you'll find that asking Filipinos from different parts of the country what adobo is will also yield different answers.
Most experts would agree, in general, that Filipino adobo is prepared by marinating meat, fish, or any kind of protein in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar before cooking it along with the marinade, creating a savory dish packed full of umami flavors. Bay leaf or dahon ng laurel is often added for flavor as well as peppercorns for spice. Cooks can add and omit certain adobo ingredients as much as they want, but most agree that the meat should be marinated for the different flavors to come together to make our dinners decidedly delicious.
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History and Origin of Adobo
It may be easy to assume that adobo is Spanish in origin since the word "adobo" itself is a loanword from them, meaning "marinade". But here's a little-known fact: the Spanish just used this word to call a dish that our ancestors cooked back in the 1500s since it was similar to their own "adobo", which was cooked in vinegar as well, both to preserve and give flavor to their food.
The salt and vinegar mixture used by our Malay ancestors to preserve their food was enhanced by the soy sauce Chinese merchants later brought to the fledgling Philippines. And so was born the earliest adobo that we're most familiar with.
How to Cook Adobo
The most basic adobo recipe starts with a marinade mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, salt and spices into which pieces of protein like chicken or pork are added. This mixture is left to marinate for at least a few hours to allow all the different flavors to become deliciously magical and seep into the meat.
Once that's done, garlic are usually fried in some oil until browned, then the meat and marinade is added together into the pot and simmered until the meat is fully cooked. From here, some water can be added to make a very saucy adobo or the sauce can also be reduced over heat and the cooked meat can be fried separately, making a supremely savory version with concentrated flavors.
How to Serve Adobo
Adobo can be served at any time of day, thanks to how easy it is to prepare. For celebrations, some cooks use boneless cuts of meat for easier portioning and eating. Local buffets often have adobo on the menu as it keeps well for hours even on low heat because vinegar is a natural preservative.
During Lenten season, when the religious eschew meat, fish is often used instead. Fish adobo is also made into packed lunches, too, wrapped in banana leaves with steamed rice, sometimes with half a salted egg and tomato, a staple for schoolkids on field trips.
Leftover adobo can be flaked and fried to make crispy adobo flakes, which is perfect for breakfast! It's especially good when paired with fried eggs and garlic fried rice.
Drinking with some good buddies? Try serving them some adobong kangkong with chicharon, which has fat to keep the alcohol from being absorbed too fast and plenty of fiber to better digest all the junk food.
Adobo's versatility as a dish is nothing to sniff at. While vinegar is essential as its soul, soy sauce can be replaced or omitted as the source of saltiness, and other ingredients like turmeric or oyster sauce can be added to the marinade, imparting their own unique flavor to the finished product.
Each region of the Philippines has their own take on the dish, due to how easy or hard ingredients were to get in certain regions. Now though, in the age of online shopping, getting certain regional items has never been easier. See an ingredient you want to try to add to adobo? Take your pick, point and click!
1 Pork Adobo or Adobong Baboy Recipes
One of the reasons why adobo is such a popular ulam dish is because it can be made with relatively cheap ingredients that work together to create top-notch flavors. This includes the choice of meat, and pork or baboy is one of the most popular versions in the Philippines. In fact, using pork for adobo is so common that in local supermarkets, you can even buy what's called an adobo cut! Here are some pork adobo recipes you can try.
• Adobong Baboy at Itlog Recipe (Pork and Egg Adobo Recipe)
• Adobong Baboy at Patatas Recipe (Pork and Potato Adobo Recipe)
2 Chicken Adobo or Adobong Manok Recipes
This is why cooking chicken adobo just makes sense: not only is chicken a relatively affordable protein but it also cuts your cooking time because unlike pork or beef, it becomes tender as soon as it is cooked! While it's common and cost-efficient to use the whole chicken for adobong manok, you can also just get the specific chicken parts you prefer by the kilo when you shop for ingredients.
• Adobong Manok sa Gata at Piña Recipe (Chicken Adobo with Coconut Milk and Pineapples Recipe)
4 Chicken and Pork Adobo or Adobong Manok at Baboy Recipes
Can't choose between pork or chicken? You can have the best of both worlds by simply adding both! Chicken and pork adobo is a great way to add variety to adobo as everyone can get their prefered kind of meat in one dish. It's important to note though that pork and chicken get tender at different rates, so make sure to tenderize the pork first before adding in the chicken so the pork is ready when the chicken is, too.
5 Seafood Adobo Recipes
Pescetarians and seafood lovers can rejoice with these meatless adobo recipes! Squid or in Filipino, pusit, is a favorite seafood option when making adobo because not only does its succulent meat taste amazing with adobo's salty-sour flavor; it is usually cooked with squid ink, which adds a unique flavor that reminds you of the sea. Preparing squid may be an extra step, but you'll find that it's worth it when you have your adobong pusit with a steaming serving of rice.
• Adobong Pusit Recipe (Squid Adobo Recipe)
• Adobong Pusit sa Gata Recipe (Squid Adobo with Coconut Milk Recipe)
• Adobong Sugpo sa Taba ng Talangka Recipe (Prawn Adobo in Crab Fat Sauce Recipe)
• Adobong Hipon sa Gata Recipe (Shrimp Adobo in Coconut Milk Recipe)
• Adobong Tuna Recipe (Tuna Adobo Recipe)
• Adobong Malunggay at Talong Recipe (Moringa and Mussels Adobo Recipe)
6 Veggie Adobo or Adobong Gulay Recipes
Adobo may have started out as a meat dish, but meatless adobo exists and is a great option for those who want more veggies (or tofu) in their diet. It's easy enough to swap veggies; you just need to be careful to avoid overcooking vegetables. Learning how to blanch vegetables is one of the best way to avoid this cooking mistake, but here's another useful tip: you can also roast or grill vegetables first before tossing them into the adobo sauce to create a mroe complex flavor.
• Adobong Sitaw Recipe (Stringbeans Adobo Recipe)
• Adobong Talong Recipe (Eggplant Adobo Recipe)
• Adobong Okra Recipe (Okra Adobo Recipe)
• Adobong Kangkong Recipe (Water Spinach Adobo Recipe)
• Tokwang Adobo sa Gata Recipe (Tofu Adobo with Coconut Milk Recipe)
• Spicy Tokwang Adobo Recipe (Spicy Tofu Adobo Recipe)
Regional Adobo Recipes
Adobo as a dish has so many iterations, thanks to how diverse the different regions of the Philippines are, with ingredients from one region not being necessarily available in another. Here are some examples of regional adobo you might encounter while traveling the country:
1 Adobo sa Buko Recipe - Southern Luzon
This Southern Luzon variant of chicken adobo is a refreshing take on the classic Filipino ulam: it uses buko juice or coconut water to give it a sweet, mellow flavor.
Try this adobo sa buko recipe!
2 Adobo de Campesino Recipe - Iloilo and Southern Luzon
What makes this Ilonggo adobo stand out? It's semi-dry, but annato or atsuete oil gives it a unique flavor and yellowish-red color. Plus, it's got sitaw, which also adds an interesting texture to each bite!
Make this Adobo de Campesino recipe!
3 Adobo sa Dilaw Recipe - Cavite
Adobo sa Dilaw roughly translates to "Yellow Adobo" in English. This kind of adobo is popularly found in Cavite. Because this adobo doesn't have soy sauce and uses turmeric, it's got a vibrant yellow color and an earthier taste.
Learn how to make Adobo sa Dilaw here.
4 Adobo sa Gata Recipe - Bicol
One easy way to add a twist to your favorite adobo recipe is by adding gata or coconut milk to it. This is what the Bicolanos did, and they even added chili, too! This combo of creamy gata and spicy sili will keep you craving for more.
Try this creamy and spicy Adobong Manok sa Gata recipe.
Other Adobo Recipe Variations
1 Adobo Sauce Recipe
Want the taste of adobo but without all the marinating? This adobo sauce recipe can be used with any viand you fancy.
2 Adobo Rice Recipes
3 Adobo Flakes Recipes
4 Adobo Pasta Recipes
5 Adobo Wings Recipes
6 Adobo Fusion Recipes
Tips For Making the Best Adobo Recipe
Adobo is at its best when the proteins are given time to absorb the flavors of the marinade mixture. Thirty minutes is good, but 1 to 2 hours is best while overnight might be the maximum since acidic vinegar can "overcook" the meat and turn it mealy in texture if marinated too long.
2 Cut the protein into evenly-sized pieces.
Not only does cutting meat into even sizes allow even marination, but the proteins also cook more evenly as well. Plus, depending on how small you cut your pieces (especially when you're making pork adobo), you reduce the time it takes to tenderize your choice of meat which is desireable if you're pressed for time. Bigger pieces tenderize slower while the opposite is true for smaller ones.
3 Use a sealed bag to marinate.
Using a food-grade vacuum sealed bag can speed up the marination process, and even lets you cook the adobo sous-vide style! If you don't have a vacuum sealer, you can also use a resealable bag to marinate the meat and manually push out the air. This option is handy when you want to be more economical when you stock it in your refrigerator or freezer; just make sure you bag is safe for freezing.
4 Low and slow is the key.
If you have time to do so, cooking adobo on low heat over a longer period of time can make a more tender dish. You can of course use a pressure cooker as well for a speedier cooking process; just be sure to add more liquid to prevent the adobo from drying out and burning as it cooks. You can always reduce the liquid onces the meat is tender if you find the dish has too much liquid.
Adobo Storage Tips
1 Adobo keeps really, really well.
Adobo once cooked can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month. Freezing it can make the dish last for much much longer! Another reason why adobo is so popular: you'd think that keeping it for a long period of time might deteriorate the flavors, but when it comes to the adobo recipes that don't have cream or gata, Filipinos will swear it tastes better the next day.
2 The secret to adobo's long shelf life is in the sauce.
Be sure to store the adobo in its sauce, as both vinegar and the salt in soy sauce are natural preservatives and significantly slows down spoilage. Top the adobo and sauce with fat rendered from the cooking process as well, as this acts like an anti-oxidation barrier, similar to the French method of confiting food.
Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!
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