One of the Asian cuisines that is still somewhat of a mystery to many is Filipino food. But there seems to be an upswing of interest, especially after watching Filipino-American Chef Sheldon Simeon get far in the recent season of “Top Chef.” (I rooted for him because he’s from Hawaii!)

When I was growing up in Hawaii, the Filipino community was large and growing. But my only exposure to the food was limited to lumpia – similar to spring rolls or egg rolls – and chicken adobo. Because I’m not a fan of deep-fried foods, I hardly ate lumpia. But I did eat my fair share of chicken adobo, the chicken dish over rice with soy sauce and vinegar flavors.

I tried to make it at home recently, so I searched for a recipe. Most used the basic ingredients of soy, vinegar, garlic and bay leaves. But whenever I made it, it kept coming out tasting like a version of my “sticky chicken” recipe, which has very similar core ingredients.

I kept experimenting with the proportions of vinegar and sugar, and it still didn’t have that unique flavor that I remember from Hawaii. It was too Japanese like or Chinese like. I finally threw in star anise as well as used light soy sauce, and that finally came close to what I remember eating.

Just to be clear – I am not Filipino, and I’m in no way trying to pass this off as an authentic chicken adobo recipe. Still, it’s my easy-to-make version with a twist that hopefully keeps this classic going strong. Enjoy!

The finished dish served with steamed rice and greens

The finished dish served with steamed rice and greens

My Chicken Adobo Recipe
Makes 2 to 3 servings

4 to 6 chicken thighs, bone-in (about 1.5 to 2 lbs.)
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup light soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 bay leaves
1-2 star anise

Prep chicken by removing skin and excess fat (I do this mostly to be healthy, but you can leave the skin on if you want). In a shallow dish, mix vinegar, soy sauce and sugar and then place chicken thighs in the marinade. Refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, place chicken thighs and marinade in a saucepan or frying pan. Add remaining ingredients: garlic, bay leaves, and star anise. Find a pan that fits the chicken while allowing the sauce to barely cover the thighs. Cover the pan and bring pan to a boil, then immediately reduce to simmer. Cook covered for 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove chicken from pan and set aside. Bring heat up to medium and reduce sauce. You might need to skim the sauce first for excess fat. Reduce the sauce for about 20 minutes until the right thickness.

Serve chicken with sauce over steam rice.

Aromatics that give the chicken its distinct flavor

Aromatics that give the chicken its distinct flavor

For my greens I sauteed some Chinese broccoli, or "kai lan," one of my favorite dark greens

For my greens I sauteed some Chinese broccoli, or “kai lan,” one of my favorite dark greens

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7 Responses to Cooking a Filipino Classic: My Chicken Adobo Recipe

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    I can almost taste it all the way from here! Love that sweet-vinegary flavor of adobo, especially with a nice mound of rice to soak up every lovely drop of sauce.

  2. Row says:

    Nice twist on the chicken adobo recipe! For me, it’s one of those dishes that turns out different each time, depending on whether I want it to be saucy or not. Food for thought: I’ve been experimenting with cane vinegar, which mellows out the flavour of the finished dish. 🙂

    • Ben Ben says:

      Never heard of cane vinegar. But to be honest, I like mine really vinegary! So that’s never the issue. LOL

  3. Donna says:

    My aunt suggested to put a tablespoon of peanut butter or if you want whole peanuts..another alternative that I like doing when cooking adobo is I put pineapple chunks in it instead of sugar or you can keep the sugar level and add the pineapple. You can also cook adobo using pork.

    • Ben Ben says:

      I’ve never heard of peanuts or peanut butter. What does that do by adding them to the sauce? I can see how pineapple is an alternative because it’s so plentiful and popular in the Philippines. Thanks for the suggestions!

  4. Ly says:

    Nice take on adobo. Looks really delish. The meat doesn’t look as dark as I’d normally expect for adobo, but that’s probly because you used light soy sauce. Since you like it vinegery, you might want to try cooking pork paksiw – the ingredients are similar to adobo’s (dried oregano sprigs and dried banana blossoms are used instead of bay leaf), but it has more vinegar in it. Works well with star anise in it too.

    • Ben Ben says:

      Mmm, I love pork, and you know I love vinegar, so I have to look into pork paksiw recipes! Thanks for the suggestions! (And yes, I like my adobo more light brown because darker does make me think it’s saltier.)