Chicken adobo is the quintessential Filipino dish. To be honest, it wasn’t really one of my favorites until I moved away from the Philippines. Back then, my favorites were bistek, fried bangus (milkfish), and sinigang (the Philippine equivalent of tom yum). But when you are away from home for so long, you develop heightened cravings for the dishes that easily assuage pangs of homesickness, and for me, adobo is one of those dishes. There is no way to prevent the aroma of this dish from filling your home, and all of a sudden, my house smells just like the one where I grew up, almost 10,000 miles away from many, many years ago.
I used to think chicken adobo was tricky to make, and in my earliest attempts, it was definitely finicky. It was easy to go from just right to tasting like pickled chicken, and it frustrated me that my younger brother was more adept at making this dish than I was.
Apparently, my problem was that I was stressing over it too much. I was tasting the sauce and adjusting it almost every other minute, terrified that it would somehow turn either too salty or too sour while I wasn’t looking. The thing is, adobo is really very simple—almost impossibly so—and it does best the less you disturb it while it’s cooking.
And when I say simple, I do mean simple. It’s a one-pot dish in the fullest sense, in that you marinate the chicken in the same pot that you cook it in. Dump the chicken in, throw some smashed garlic cloves, peppercorns, and a touch of brown sugar. Make a marinade that’s equal parts soy sauce, vinegar, and water. Pour it over the chicken, and you’re done.
Marinate it for at least 20 minutes and up to overnight. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll just let it sit on the stove. Then when the 20 minutes is up, I simply fire up stove to medium to medium-high heat and let it come to a boil. It goes from this:
And finally to this in about 40 minutes.
Once the chicken begins cooking on the stove, I start my rice cooker and make a salad. And in less than an hour, I have dinner on the table. The chicken only needs to be flipped two or three times. There’s no added oil except whatever oils are released by the chicken, and you hardly even stir the sauce around. The only adjusting you make is adding water, if necessary, every time you flip the chicken.
And that’s it! Quick and easy, and I guarantee you that your kitchen will smell lovely while this is cooking. Try it the next time you need a quick, no-fuss chicken dinner!
Ivoryhut’s Quick and Easy Chicken Adobo
4 to 5 whole chicken leg quarters, divided into thighs and drumsticks, washed and cleaned, thighs skinned
6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup soy sauce (I don’t recommend using Kikkoman for this, but if you have to, use the low-sodium Kikkoman)
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce (or an additional tablespoon of brown sugar)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, half left whole, half cracked slightly
2 bay leaves
Using the same pot you’ll be cooking the chicken in, put all the ingredients. Let the chicken marinate for at least 20 minutes, and up to overnight.
When ready to cook, put the pot on the stovetop and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, lower the heat slightly and cook, covered, for about 15 minutes. Remove the cover. Flip the chicken pieces and continue to simmer, uncovered, to reduce the sauce, lowering the heat if necessary. If the sauce is too thick or too salty, add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of water. After about 8 minutes, flip the chicken again. Taste the sauce again and add more water if needed. Don’t worry if you accidentally add too much water—the simmering will take care of that.
Continue to simmer until chicken is fully cooked and has released its oils into the sauce, and the sauce has thickened slightly and taken on a rich, dark brown color.
Serve over jasmine rice, or, for a real Filipino treat, with garlic fried rice.
Note: I use Filipino soy sauce and cane vinegar when making this. Remember to taste the sauce after about 15 minutes or so of cooking and adjust the seasoning accordingly. Distilled vinegar tends to be sharper, which you can remedy with additional water and brown sugar. If it’s too salty, just add more water.
I promise you: one bite of this and you’ll instantly know why almost every Filipino I know loves adobo.