Adventures with Adobo

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

For the past 10 or so years, I’ve been tracking Filipino food, anticipating that it would get hot, as the numbers of people of Filipino heritage continued to grow in the U.S.

According to the Census Bureau, people from the Philippines now represent 4 percent of the overall U.S. foreign-born population, the fourth largest immigrant group behind Mexico (29 percent), China (5 percent), and India (5 percent).

In the past, I’ve queried Filipino chefs, curious to know why there weren’t more Filipino restaurants in this country, and they were hard pressed to determine why. One guess was that Filipino food was more about good home cooking than restaurant fare. Another theory was that it needed stronger support from the Filipino community. Whatever the reason, we’re finally starting to see Filipino food take the spotlight on the American culinary scene.

With elements of Spanish, Chinese, Southeast Asian and Mexican influences, merged with indigenous foods, there’s much to like about this authentic, fusion cuisine. A good introduction to Filipino food is Memories of Philippine Kitchens, by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang and revised in 2012.

Another good source is the blog, Asian in America, written by my Twitter and Instagram friend, @Mango_Queen, Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino.

And you can keep up with what’s trending on the Filipino culinary scene at a Facebook page, The Filipino Food Movement.

My mom loved Filipino cuisine and she would engage her Filipino nurses and caregivers in food talk—about the best way to make pinakbet, a kind of vegetable stew similar in concept to a ratatouille; or adobo, considered the national dish of the Philippines.

While I’ve been to restaurants, I’ve never cooked Filipino food myself until this week, when I came across a recipe I had captured in a photo on my iPhone from the Philippine food pavilion at the Fancy Food Show. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name of the chef whose recipe this is. Since it was meant to be a promotional recipe, I don’t think he’d mind my sharing with you this adaptation.

There are as many adobo recipes as there are good Filipino cooks. The adobo recipe below is delicious, with a clean tartness from the vinegar, balanced with the umami of soy sauce. To make this adobo, you make an adobo sauce and simmer the chicken and pork belly in it, then remove the meats from the sauce and fry them until crisp and golden in oil skimmed off the sauce. Once everything is fried, the meats are returned to the sauce in the pot and simmered to heat through.

Be very careful when frying: adding moist meat to hot oil will cause the oil to sputter and pop, and hot oil droplets will fly everywhere, including at the cook! I used long cooking chopsticks and stood well back.

I think I’ve remedied the spattering somewhat by specifying less oil and a lower heat than my original test, but beware. The final dish is worth the fear factor.

1 pound pork belly
6 cloves garlic, divided
1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
½ cup vinegar (cane, palm or regular white vinegar)
¼ cup naturally brewed soy sauce
2 bay leaves
4 chicken thighs

Slice pork into 1- X 1 ½-inch chunks. Leave skin on.

Crush the garlic cloves with the flat blade of a knife and peel garlic. Crack the peppercorns by putting them in a plastic sandwich bag and pounding with a meat mallet or hammer just until peppercorns are coarsely crushed.

In a large pot, add 3 cloves of the garlic, the peppercorns, vinegar, soy sauce and bay leaves. Add pork, chicken and enough water to cover meat.

Bring sauce to simmer, then continue to simmer, covered, over medium heat until chicken is cooked, about 20 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside. Simmer the remaining pork until it is tender, about 10 minutes more. Test with a fork; it should pierce the pork easily. Remove pork and set aside.

Pour sauce into a gravy separator to separate the fat from the sauce. Return sauce to the pot, reserving the fat. If you don’t have a gravy separator, simply skim off fat with a ladle, reserving fat.

In a large skillet, add 1 tablespoon of the reserved fat and heat over medium heat. Add the 3 remaining cloves of garlic and add the pork in a single layer. Do not turn until the underside of the pork is golden and crisp; then turn and fry the other side. Caution: oil will sputter and pop during frying. Continue to cook until all sides are golden, adding more oil if needed. Remove pork and set aside.

Add the chicken pieces to the pan and fry until golden on all sides. Remove chicken and set aside.

Drain oil and discard garlic. Add a little water (about 1/3 cup) to the skillet and bring to a simmer, stirring and scraping up the crusty meat bits; add this liquid to the sauce in the pot.

Just when ready to serve, return pork and chicken to the pot. Reheat adobo mixture. Gently toss cooked meats. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from a recipe featured at the Philippine food pavilion at the Fancy Food Show, 2014, in San Francisco.

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Posted: May 10th by Sandy_Hu