Filipino Chicken & Pork Adobo

By in category: Cookin's Choice, Philippines

There are as many adobo recipes as there are Filipinos.  Maybe more.

adobe-chicken-porkJust taking into account recipes which would fall under categories like “the original”, “traditional”, or “best-ever” would fill up volumes and volumes of books … each varying from the next.  That isn’t even considering all the reinventions, fusions, and new versions that this simple dish is going through!

And adobo’s origins?

Another minefield of confusion!  Spanish?  Mexican?  Indigenous?  With soy sauce?  Without?  Soy sauce came to us by way of the Chinese, so any adobo made before that would only have had salt.

Does that mean any adobo touted as “traditional” or “original” shouldn’t have soy sauce?  Logical to some, a sacrilege to others!

Knowing this, when it comes to adobo, food writers proceed with both caution and abandon.  Loosely described, Filipino adobo is a stew or a simmer of meat or vegetables cooked with vinegar.

The most common versions uses chicken or pork or both, with soy sauce to flavour, as well as bay leaf, black pepper, and garlic.  The pillars of adobo.

That being said, we also have versions using squid (adobong pusit), long beans (adobong sitaw), and water spinach (adobong kang kong).  People have used everything from baby back ribs to catfish in adobo.  Some like to cook their adobo without the soy, using salt instead, or even patis (fish sauce). Some like to add coconut cream towards the end of cooking.

There are Spanish-influenced adobos that use red wine and smoked paprika. There are also Chinese versions that use star anise and oyster sauce. Others like to add liver spread or liver pate to thicken the sauce.  Different regions of the Philippines argue as to what is the best vinegar to use for adobo and there are heated debates about when you can stir the sauce (never stir until the vinegar has burned off most of its acids!).

adobo-chickenporkIt’s unlikely there will ever be a truly definitive recipe for Filipino adobo. Despite some lovely Filipino cookbooks finally making themselves seen locally and beyond, Filipino cooking in general is still so personal, so familial – recipes are stories and myth and fables, shared over the kitchen table, handed over to friends and family like gifts.

One can’t help but love this dish all the more for its refusal to be pinned down, along with its questionable and uncertain past.

Adobo eludes as much as it entices … and that is what always has diners coming back for more.

A Recipe for Filipino Adobo


  • 1/2 cup white cane vinegar
  • 1/4 cup toyo (our local soy sauce)
  • 3/4 – 1 cup water (you may not use all of it)
  • 3 chicken legs (drumstick) and 3 chicken thighs (if you like to use dark meat – this should come to about 600-650 grams of chicken)
  • 350-400 grams pork belly (the part with the bone, skin on), cut into generous chunks (about 2 inches)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, just slightly bashed, skin still on (do not peel!)
  • 2 bay (laurel) leaves
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, a few twists


  1. Put all the ingredients, except for the water, into a Dutch oven or any heavy duty pot, and leave for about 30 minutes to marinate.
  2. Place the pot over medium heat, add 1/2 cup water, and bring to a boil.
  3. Lower the heat to a simmer and simmer without stirring until most of the vinegar’s acid has been cooked off – you will know when this is done because it won’t smell as sharp and “sting-y”.
  4. Keep simmering over low heat until the chicken is very tender – about 40 minutes to an hour. Taste the sauce.  If it’s too salty or too sharp for your taste, add some of the remaining water.
  5. When chicken is tender, remove the pieces from the pot and set aside. At this point the garlic will be very tender as well – you can mash some (not all!) of the cloves against the sides of the pot to incorporate it into the sauce.
  6. Keep simmering on low heat a further 30 minutes to 1 hour or until the pork is meltingly tender.
  7. When the pork is very tender, remove from the pot and set aside.
  8. Keep simmering the sauce until reduced to your desired consistency.
  9. Taste the sauce and if you’d like a bit of sweetness, stir in a pinch of brown sugar.
  10. Heat a skillet with some oil over high heat.  When the oil is hot, fry the chicken and pork pieces to brown.
  11. When the sauce has reduced to your desired consistency add the browned chicken and pork back to the pot. Toss gently and remove from heat.

You can eat it at this point but it gains depth of flavour if you let it rest for a day.

If you like adobo dark, use soy sauce.  The mix of pork and chicken brings character to the meal.  The pork makes the whole dish, especially the sauce, more robust so consider having to fish for the chicken mid-way, a step well worth taking.

Use pork belly that has still got the bones attached and skin on – then make your butcher cut it into nice chunks.  The bones and skin will work wonders towards giving your sauce more body.  Frying the chicken and pork after they’ve been cooked is a messy affair but it really does make a difference, and the caramelized bits of fatty pork and chicken skin will make cleaning an oil spattered kitchen seem like a small price to pay.

One of the oldest adobo adages is to not stir the sauce until the vinegar burns off most of its “acid”.  Another bit of advice is to always leave the garlic skin on.  I can’t say I understand either.

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The beauty of adobo is really in its changeability and adaptability so I encourage you to experiment.  Here are some adaptations (collected from different people, books, and a wandering imagination) to get you started:

  • Pop one star anise into the pot to give it a brilliant fragrance and a Chinese flavour.
  • Add a peeled hard-boiled egg towards the end of cooking.
  • Add one peeled sweet potato to add a touch of sweetness.
  • Experiment with different types of vinegars.  Try a version that uses red wine vinegar – and instead of chicken and pork, use lamb shanks and add in some peeled pear quarters.
  • Add a handful of peeled pearl/spring onions to the mix – they will melt as the adobo cooks, and enrich the sauce.
  • Slow cook your adobo in the oven while you do chores around the house.
  • Use leftover adobo (flake the meat) for awesome fried rice.

Now that’s Cookin’

[wordbay]sauce (soy, fish)[/wordbay]

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