Adobo is simple. Adobo is elegant. Adobo is special. Adobo is ordinary. Adobo is forgiving. Adobo is nostalgic. Adobo is emphatic. Adobo is romantic. Adobo is versatile. Adobo is timeless. Ad obo infinitum.
Adobo is personal
Before my mother passed away, she made a request for me to prepare adobo. That scene was in a hospital and I teased her that I would make one with skinless pecho or chicken breast. She smiled and jokingly said she would throw it away if that’s the case. For mama, chicken adobo has to be made with drumstick, the thigh part, the isol (chicken butt) — that wonderful appendage of a chicken oozing with fat and texture.
And for her choice of pork, it should have to be sticky and gelatinous pork trotters, with pork belly as a close second choice.
For mama’s request, I bought a few chicken thighs and drumsticks. I added maybe a cup or less of vinegar, a liberal amount of salt in anticipation of adding water on the latter part of the process, and maybe six or seven cloves of garlic. I placed all ingredients in a pot and allowed the vinegar to boil uncovered. I had read in blogs like Market Manila and more recently in Memories of Philippine Kitchens by Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa of allowing vinegar to breathe and temper by not covering the cooking vessel and not stirring. The acrid acid fumes soon mellowed and was replaced with the sweet perfume of caramelization. I waited for a sizzle. That told me that browning is happening in the pan. I waited for the sound of the sizzle to increase and the liquids to decrease. I added maybe half of a cup of water to make a sauce from the bits and pieces of crust that form on the bottom and sides of the pan. I scraped the bits and stirred them with the water. I added just a little sugar to give a hint of sweetness to pair up with the sour and salty flavors. I served it to mama on her hospital bed. She had lost her eyesight for quite some time but I believe that her taste buds could still distinguish and appreciate flavor. She said it was good. Her next request was bangus belly.
She knew her food.
Adobo is you
It is the dish that every Filipino who can turn on a stove and make instant canton should have in their repertoire of recipes. I suggest you do your own research on recipes, read, ask, taste and formulate your own. It is a forgiving recipe and even a badly made adobo can still make you and whoever you coerced to try it to finish at least a cup of rice with it. Adobo is not bound by strict adherence to ingredients in terms of meat choice, cut, quantity, measurement by the gram or milliliter, temperature, and cooking time. And remember that fat is your friend and not your foe.
Grab the chicken thighs with most skin. Ask the butcher for one and a half inch cubes of pork belly. Munch on a few pieces of Carcar chicharon on your way home. Fat imparts an inexplicable joy in your taste buds that no lean cut of meat can ever match. In a mixed martial arts battle of meat cuts, the belly always submits the tenderloin via a rear naked choke.
You should not conform to the expectations of others, well, except for whoever will eat your adobo. In the end your adobo will always be the best… or maybe a close second to that of the little carinderia with a magical piece of pork pata coated in the faintest film of sauce, glistening in the sunlight, embellished with a few emerald hued chiffonade of sibuyas dahon, jiggling with every rumble of passing jeepneys, and sitting elegantly like the king of pork on a chipped saucer.