This might come as a surprise to you, given my background, that I carry a very strong emotional attachment to all things Filipino, and this Chicken Adobo in particular. I spent a year of my life in the Philippines in my early twenties, and although it was one of the most difficult years in my then young life I’ve come to love and appreciate the country and her people.
I lived in a small village in a bamboo hut, slept on the floor, had food and drink so foreign to me that half of the time I couldn’t even identify things I was putting in my mouth (starting a couple of months in – in the beginning I was firmly on a peanut butter and cracker diet). Although sad there were no full length mirrors anywhere to check out my quickly disappearing frame, what I missed most was my then fiance – now husband – who was spending his internship in Nepal.
It was well before mobile phones became ubiquitous and internet connections reliable. We wrote letters and then waited weeks to get a reply. I still have ALL of them. Our whole life and love story is captured in those letters and although many of the plans and dreams we had for our lives haven’t come to pass or took on a very different shape, at the core we are still the same. We do have two gorgeous kids as we dreamed we would, we still stay up late into the wee hours to talk, we go on dates after 17 years together and can’t imagine life apart. Some things never change and there is so much comfort in that.
It’s interesting how strange and foreign things soon enough become familiar and even soothing. This Chicken Adobo is one of those things. Incredibly simple yet rich in flavour, it became my comfort food in a country so different from my own. Chicken Adobo is very easy to love even if you are not a fan of Filipino food. It’s reminiscent of our stews that nourish, satisfy and warm up from the inside. Not that you need to be warmed up in the high heat and humidity every day in the Philippines seems to bring, but strangely enough I still craved that feeling!
I learned to cook it from our 17 year-old helper Lanie. She wasn’t the greatest cook but I got the basics of the recipe from her. I continued cooking it after I returned to the States, at least once a week for Brad once we got married, and over time Lanie’s recipe turned into what I am sharing with you today. Essentially, this chicken dish is flavoured with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and vinegar. Sometimes carrots and potatoes are added to balance out the strong adobo sauce. I personally really recommend adding them! That’s how Lanie cooked it. I added a bay leaf as it’s a flavour I love and other adobo recipes seem to have it as well.
Chicken Adobo was always served with plain, unsalted rice and tiny citrus kalamansi, also known as Filipino lime. Sadly I’ve never seen kalamansi outside of the Philippines, which is a real shame because their taste is unparalleled to any citrus here! I used limes as a substitute in this recipe, just squeeze a little bit of lime juice into individual portions.
- 8 chicken pieces, legs and thighs
- ½ cup/125 ml soy sauce/Bragg or Kikkoman brand for gluten-free version
- ½ cup to ¾ cup of rice vinegar (adjust it to your taste)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2" long piece of ginger, grated
- 5 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2-3 bay leaves
- ½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 1 carrot, medium, cut in large chunks
- 1 potato, medium, cut in large chunks
- ½ cup/125 ml water
- 1 tbsp corn starch
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 spring onion (optional)
- 1 lime
- In a large bowl combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, 1 tbsp of oil, 4 garlic cloves crushed, half of grated ginger, black pepper, add chicken pieces and let them marinade for 30 minutes in the fridge.
- In a wok or a deep pan brown chicken pieces for 3 minutes on each side, might need to do that in batches not to overcrowd chicken, otherwise they will steam instead of brown. Do not discard the marinade. Chicken will not be cooked all the way through, remove it from the pan to a plate and set aside.
- To the same pan add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil, sliced garlic and the remaining ginger, stir fry for 1 minute, do not let them brown. Add the chicken, marinade, water, bay leaves, potatoes and carrots, (the sauce will not cover the chicken entirely), turn the heat up and bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 45 minutes until carrots and potatoes are easily pierced with a fork and the chicken is cooked all the way through.
- In a small bowl mix cornstarch with water, making sure there are no clumps and add to the sauce, mix through and let it simmer for a couple more minutes, which will allow the sauce to thicken. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, it should be thick enough to coat the pieces. If the sauce is not thick enough, cook it a bit longer until desired consistency. Sprinkle with sliced spring onion.
- Serve with plain rice and lime wedges.