3 pounds short ribs
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons oil
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup cider vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
3 bay leaves
Ask 10 Filipino cooks for their adobo recipe and you’ll get 10 different ways to make it, and if you’re like me, probably even a few other ways as well: dry or saucy, sweeter or sourer, etc. “Adobo” is Spanish for dressing or marinade. For me, adobo is primarily about the sauce, and some people enjoy a more vinegary sour taste from it to linger, although with a little sweetness and saltiness to it. The key here is the balance that comes from a smooth-tasting vinegar combined with a little bit of sweet soy sauce that’s not too salty. Notably, some Filipinos marinate their adobo overnight and then cook it the next day. I have done this in the past, but the difference is not enough to make it worth doing.
Various meats can be used to make adobo but pork, beef, and chicken are the main staples. In the Philippines, you can also use seafood, fish, and exotic meats — basically, anything can be adobo-fied.
Filipinos had already been using vinegar and soy sauce as staples in their cooking, so naturally, when the Spanish brought in their own culinary influences, adobo was made using indigenous ingredients.
Vinegar in the Philippines usually come from three sources: sugar cane, called Sukang Ilocos (dark) and Sukang Maasim (white vinegar); nipa palm (Sukang Paombong); and coconut (Sukang Tuba). Rice vinegar from Japan has a mild sweetness and lower in acidity — it’s good with adobo chicken.
The Ilocos vinegar is dark yellow, or even a brownish color, depending on its age. I like the mellow flavor that it imparts to adobo.
Sukang Maasim is the all-around multi-purpose vinegar made from sugar cane. I like to use this for Paksiw na Isda (Poached fish in Vinegar with ginger and chillies). It has a tendency to maintain a minerally acidic aftertaste after cooking.
Sukang Paombong comes from the sap of nipa palm fruit. Paombong is a region in the island of Luzon and this vinegar is a staple in the adobo made there. It is cloudy white in color and has a citrus aftertaste.
Sukang Tuba is universally used and is also cloudy white, but with a more assertive sour taste. I prefer to use this with heartier meats with bones in them such as pork spare ribs or beef short ribs.
I am adding Rice Vinegar (Mirin brand) to the list of kinds of vinegar, as I sometimes use this type of vinegar to add another dimension to the usual sour taste and sweetness. For the soy sauce, I prefer to use a low-sodium one and to combine it with a dark vinegar to impart color. I like to try different types such as Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Filipino brands. But if you already have a soy sauce of your choice, then, by all means, keep using it.
As a nurse, I counsel patients on a DASH diet to use a lighter soy sauce to decrease their sodium intake. If you are on a low-sodium diet, please be advised to use soy sauce sparingly by using low-sodium broth versions or even by substituting water for it.
- In my own version of this recipe, I use the same ratio of about 1 cup vinegar(s) to ½ cup soy sauce(s). My version is with Paombong and Mirin (both ½ cup each) mixed with Kikkoman Lite soy sauce and Silver Swan Filipino dark soy sauce (¼ cup each).
- I use whole black peppercorns and grind them in a mortar.
- I like the taste of bay leaf, so I add 3 or 4 more depending on their size. Count how many you put in and remember to take them out when you have finished cooking — they are dangerous if swallowed (Heimlich maneuver may not work)!
- I switch chicken broth for beef broth
- Adding a bit more sweetness can be achieved by adding a tablespoon of brown sugar.
- I always add Russet potatoes to mine — about 2 medium-sized or one large one, peeled and then cut into dice about 1/2 inch per side. Add them about midway through the cooking, so that they’re just right when the adobo is done and they have absorbed some of the sauce. And their starchiness also helps thicken the sauce!
- You might have to add an extra hour of cooking time to the dish in order to ensure complete meat tenderness if using beef short rib — it almost always takes longer to cook than most recipes call for.
- Garnish the completed dish with chives or parsley if you have some handy.
- Wine Recommendation: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Rosé, Merlot
Kain na po tayo… tutti a tavola a mangiare…Allons-nous manger…Let’s eat!
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