Next on our whistle-stop tour of four countries in two weeks was the Philippines, a small Pacific island nation and one with a cuisine we knew literally nothing about. A search for ‘Philippines national dish’ initially suggested that we should make adobo, which bears no resemblance to the Mexican sauce of the same name but instead involves marinating meat (chicken or pork) overnight in a liquid consisting mostly of vinegar before poaching and frying it.
However, a little more reading revealed that adobo is in fact the ‘unofficial’ national dish, and there was actually a campaign in 2014 to make lechon, or spit-roasted pig, the official national dish. Filipino swine producers were apparently all for this, but the chicken industry was keen to dub both dishes ‘co-national’. In response to the proposed bill, a petition was launched to raise adobo’s national dish status to official. We don’t actually know what the result of all this was, but we don’t need to: any country with so much pride in its food simply deserved our close attention to its recipes!
In the end, our choice between adobo and lechon was easy. Much as cooking a spit-roasted pig would have made Ash’s year (yes, he is getting married in a month… your point?), we simply don’t have the equipment to get the pig home from the butcher, let alone cook it. So chicken adobo it was. Recipes varied somewhat depending on where we looked, but we used one from The Splendid Table – we just eliminated the tomatoes as no other recipe included them, and one of the comments on The Splendid Table even said that it was strange. Our version is below.
2 tbsp soy sauce
5 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
185ml vinegar (Filipino palm vinegar would be most authentic, but can be substituted with cider – which we used – or white vinegar)
1 bay leaf, broken
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Chopped spring onion to garnish
1. The day before cooking the chicken, combine the soy sauce, garlic, black pepper, vinegar and bay leaf in a glass or stainless steel bowl. Add the chicken, making sure it is as submerged as possible. Cover and refrigerate for 18-24 hours.
2. When ready to cook, put the whole lot into a heavy based pot. Bring it to a gentle bubble, cover and cook for 25 minutes.
3. Remove the chicken and skim as much fat as possible from the cooking liquid (this was difficult as there didn’t actually seem to be much fat in there, but worth doing if you can). Increase the heat and reduce the liquid by half.
4. While the liquid is reducing, add some olive oil to a frying pan over medium high heat. Add the chicken skin side down and fry until a deep rich brown.
5. Turn the pieces of chicken over and scatter the onion around them. Continue browning, moving the onion around so it doesn’t burn.
6. When cooked, put the chicken and onion on top of rice in your serving dish, pour the boiled-down pan juices over them, and serve sprinkled with the spring onion.
The amount of vinegar in this dish was initially slightly unnerving, especially for Ash, who isn’t a big fan of anything pickled or vinegary. He walked in the door just as it was finishing cooking and commented, ‘Wow, it is vinegary, isn’t it?!’ Even walking downstairs the morning after found us hit in the face with the smell. Having said that – it didn’t actually taste much like vinegar. Instead, the marinade had boiled down to a deliciously tangy sauce, retaining the sharpness of vinegar without the overpowering flavour. Considering how few ingredients are in this dish, and how little technique, we were very pleasantly surprised, and would certainly recommend it.