As you may remember, I was recently challenged to cook this Filipino dish, Chicken Adobo. Sounds easy enough! I accepted the challenge and started researching my cookbooks, TV shows and the internet. Lucky I took notice of the Filipino Food Safari on SBS a couple of nights before! This will be just like any other Asian dish I’ve cooked – no worries at all! I’ve got this in the bag!?!
Or so I thought. I must say that I found Chicken Adobo a little challenging. I tried all the techniques I had read about, from frying the chicken before stewing to marinating with soy and vinegar for a couple of hours before cooking to trying apple cider or distilled white vinegars to adding onions, for something different, to finally finding that ‘secret’ ingredient that just made my Chicken Adobo delicious and perfect, moist and saucy with all the right flavours.
As Chicken Adobo is the National dish of the Philippines and their most popular, I wanted to respect the dish and do Chi from Sunny Days proud – she probably eats this at least once a week! I must get this dish right! Time to do some more research to ensure all the flavours are well balanced and the chicken tender.
The balancing of flavours – sweet and sour (tangy) with garlic and pepper – was the easier part. Getting a sauce that could be soaked up with rice but also sticks to the chicken and keeping the chicken tender were where I encountered some issues. Through trial and errors (four in total) I started working out and eliminating those issues, to create my version of Chicken Adobo.
My first attempt was the longest I had, as I wanted to create this well known dish with all the sides that Filipinos enjoy eating with their adobo. Chi says she loves eating sticky rice and potato crisps with her adobo. I spent nearly all day trying to create the right flavours, ensuring everything tasted right, I even made my own coconut milk for the sticky rice! And I also bought some black rice which turns purple once cooked – I got told by the Asian grocer that this is the rice to use. Everything turned out perfectly, but I couldn’t get the sauce to the right consistency without the chicken falling.
My second attempt was marinating the chicken pieces in a soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, peppercorn, garlic and bay leaf marinade for a few hours. Big mistake, huge! I wondered why my chicken was dry and not at all tender as I cooked the chicken on a low, slow heat. Then I found out that vinegar can make chicken tough if marinated for any longer than an hour or two! The sauce turned out perfectly, as I simmered it for half an hour before adding the chicken. Strike two!
Third attempt didn’t go down that well either. I added onion and cooked it with freshly cracked pepper before adding the chicken. The way the pepper was cooked with the onion gave me heartburn. Trying different cooking techniques can either be hit or miss. Strike three but I’m not out yet! Please, someone, give me a sign! Show me the way! Give me direction to create that perfect adobo!
To me, the way to make a dish yours or to adapt the dish to your taste buds, I believe in recipe testing. This is the reason why I sometimes don’t post straight away after cooking a dish. I will keep playing with techniques and ingredients until I find the perfect tasting dish to share with you all. Sometimes, I get excited that things just work out first time. Other times there needs to be some adaptation.
Another week of research and I found some secret ingredients that other foodies have shared on their blogs. These ingredients could only be found at an Asian grocer. So another trip to Little Saigon Market in Footscray, where I had no idea if they would even stock this secret ingredient. I was praying that one of those stores would sell what I needed. Sure enough, I found my secret ingredients (thank goodness!) and I couldn’t wait to get started on my next cooking session.
All in all, I found the Chicken Adobo challenge got me out of my comfort zone, humbled me in some respect and taught me that there’s more to learn about Asian cuisine that I haven’t even experimented with yet. I had such a great time learning a new dish and growing as a cook. I’m already thinking about what I can challenge myself with next – any ideas lovely foodies?
Please enjoy my adaptation of this Filipino classic, my delicious and very tasty Chicken Adobo.
I used the vinegar at the end of the cooking process. It’s not something I would use as a marinade.
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Search your local Asian stores for the secret ingredient – cane vinegar! You should be able to find kecap manis at your supermarket. Or click on the highlighted words to see where you can buy them online.
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Use chicken thighs, with the bone in, or drumsticks as breast can dry out.
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 medium brown onions, sliced
5-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped/minced/grated
¼ cup kecap manis
¼ cup light soy sauce
½ cup cane vinegar
8 chicken drumsticks
2 bay leaves
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
In a large frypan, heat oil on medium heat and brown the onions for 5-6 minutes.
Stir through the garlic, kecap manis and light soy sauce, turning the heat to low so not to burn the garlic.
Add in the chicken drumsticks and baste with the sauce for 2-3 minutes until the chicken has changed colour.
Add in the bay leaves and place a lid on the frypan. Cook for 30 minutes, turning the chicken half way through.
Remove the lid after 30 minutes and gently stir though the cane vinegar, turning the chicken again.
Cook for a further 30 minutes, uncovered, turning the chicken half way through.
Remove the chicken from the sauce and set aside on a plate.
Turn the heat to medium and allow the sauce to thicken slightly for 10 minutes, stirring frequently to stop the sauce from burning. Add the chicken back in to coat with the sauce. Heat through for another 2-3 minutes.
Remove from heat and serve immediately with steamed rice and freshly cracked black pepper.