typhoon food, pt. 2: chicken adobo

one of the things you come to expect during a typhoon is that the power will go out. no one ever knows when or for how long, so you and your freezer are at the mercy of the power company. if you are a filipino, this generally means one thing: time to make adobo.

filipino adobo and the latin american adobado are both derived from the spanish word adobar, which means "to stew". i am mostly unfamiliar with the latin version of adobo, but i believe it mostly has to do with chiles that are roasted and stewed in vinegar, garlic, and onion, then pureed and used as a marinade for foods that can be further cooked by other methods. filipino adobo can be made with almost any ingredients, but the heart of it is the stewing mixture, which is one part soy sauce to two parts vinegar, water, minced garlic, chopped onions, black pepper and bay leaves. it is the copious amount of vinegar that make it a typhoon food--the vinegar acts as a preservative, so the dish can stand for quite some time without refrigeration (another hint: if you are making a pot of rice that needs to sit out for spell, add a tablespoon or two of vinegar to the pot before cooking; it will keep for much longer). you can add a variety of meats and starches, and some even add vegetables--whatever takes your fancy.

everybody has a different recipe for adobo. mine comes from the province of pampanga, in the philippines. kapampangans, or natives of this region in central luzon, are well-known for their cuisine and cooking skills. my family (on both sides) is from there, and there are many excellent cooks on either side.

of course, no one ever really writes down a recipe, and amounts are usually discussed in terms of finger lengths and strange gesturings. i'll take a stab at it, but i can't guarantee that what you'll end up with is what you're looking for. you should end up with a meat stew that is savoury and slightly sharp, with meltingly soft onions and sweet garlic throughout.

sauté a head or so of garlic, minced finely, in a couple tablespoons of oil, until lightly browned. add 2 chopped yellow onions, continue until softened.

in a dutch oven or heavy pot, place a 3 to 4 lb. fryer chicken, cut into pieces, and chunkily cut russet potatoes (depending on the size of yr taters, 3 should do it). add 1 part soy sauce to 2 parts vinegar and 2 parts water (you want this to just cover the ingredients). add a fistful of bay leaves and peppercorns, and bring to a boil.

add the sautéed onions and garlic to the pot. return the pan to the fire, and add more oil. take the chicken out of the boiling mixture, and brown in the heated oil. this will keep the chicken from falling apart in the stew, and add extra flavour and texture.

mikey waits for something, anything, to come leaping out of the pan.

when the chicken has been evenly browned, drain/pat off the excess oil from the meat, and return it to the boiling pot. reduce to a simmer, until the stock has thickened, and the potatoes are cooked through, roughly 30 to 45 minutes.

serve with steamed rice, and a rough salsa of chopped tomatoes and cilantro to lighten the flavour.


Hi Santos,

I love adobo. Haven't had it in a while and been wanting to make it. Looks yummy! The Portuguese here also make pickled pork with loads of vinegar (vinha d'alhos) which is also quite yummy! Don't know which I'm going to get around to making first.

i vote for the portuguese recipe

hi santos,
i absolutely loved this post. it brought back memories of typhoons, blackouts & brownouts (when the power goes out at night or during the day)... and of course -- of adobo... yum!

i used to have a love-hate relationship with adobo that now has entirely dissolved into all-love. when i was younger, there came a point when it became my least-favourite dish since it was served so often. i refused to eat it when we moved to the states, and it wasn't until i moved away to college and started cooking on my own that i began craving it again.

i really enjoyed reading your family's take on it. my family's recipe is pretty straightforward -- no potatoes or onions, and the sauce is of soy, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and a little water.


hey claudine

thanks for solving the mystery of the phrase "brownout"--i've always wondered what the difference was.

i had/have a bunch of different love/hate relationships with filipino dishes (currently it's love pochero can't get enough of it/ hate pinakbet never want to see it again), but i don't ever remember hating adobo, although, when i moved to the mainland, i think it was at least ten years before i saw it again, let alone ate it. the saddest sight i've ever seen was visiting one of my cousins when she was in college and watching her make adobo for one--one chicken leg, a half a potato...that's just not right! to me it's a "family food", you *have* to make it in large quantities.

i wholeheartedly agree... adobo for ... one? ... just doesn't sound right. :)

interesting blog. just happened upon it while mucking around online. unusual adobo recipe with potatoes and onions, wow. i guess there are as many adobo recipes as there are families.

My grandmother's recipe doesn't even have soy sauce, just salt. and no water either, just vinegar. cooks it in a big frying pan, not a pot. She claims soy sauce a was a post-world war 2 modification, when due to modern time constraints, people didn't want to wait for the traditional adobo to brown in its own fat, and so added soy sauce as an instant browning agent.

Incidentally, imo, the terms brownout and blackout refer to the geographical extent of the power outage: it's a brownout if only a portion of the city is cut off. it's a blackout when the entire city (or province, or other similar large area) is out of electricity.