Chicken Adobo– to be or not to be, dry/saucy, salty/vinegary, coconut milk or not…so many choices!

The venerable Philippine Culinary historian, Doreen Fernandez once quipped that Filipino cooks were “a galaxy of flavor adjusters.” If one were to poll 100 Filipinos and asked for their adobo recipe, one would surely get 100 different variations (if not more), identifiable by localities (from over 7,000 islands) with tastes quite different from the next. Assuredly, the recipe has had its changes through colonization, but its humble beginnings with the indigenous tribes began as a way of preserving precious bushmeat. ‘Adobong Puti’– vinegar from coconut stews the meat that may be the mother of recipes we come to know today.

The universal method of preserving meat, whether fish or land meat, is the use of vinegar. The main abundant sources for creating vinegar comes from coconut and sugarcane. Different types of vinegar exist and its use most often decided based on the acidity and flavor it can impart to the meat. It is uncommon to find only one type of vinegar in a Filipino pantry, most might have at least three, sometimes with added herbs and spices as well to flavor them according to the home cook’s tastes. 

The soy sauce was brought in by the Chinese,  becoming a staple in Filipino cooking. While Fish sauce still commands a place in the pantry, it is commonly used as a salt additive and umami flavoring. Adding coconut milk to adobo is also a regional interpretation–I remember my grandmother’s coconut grater that would produced fresh coconut milk when she used it in adobo and other meals. 

This recipe for chicken adobo is to provide the starter recipe from which other renditions can be accomplished– dry, coconut flavored, and saucy. Adding different ingredients to create your own flavors is highly encouraged!


1 whole chicken cut into smaller 8-10 pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

1 tablespoon Fish Sauce

3/4-1 cup Filipino vinegar (Sukang Puti- White vinegar or Sukang Paombong- Nipa Palm)

1/3 cup Light Soy Sauce

1/4 cup Dark Soy Sauce

1 cup chicken stock

1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, then crushed, divide into two equal portions

1 small onion shallot, finely diced

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon whole pepper corns

1 tablespoon brown sugar

optional ingredients:

2-3 russet or red potatoes, quartered

4-6 Hard boiled eggs

Other ingredients I have used are Lotus Root and Bamboo Shoots

1 can of coconut milk

The Preparation:

  1. Using a large casserole pot under medium to high heat the vegetable oil.
  2. Saute the garlic until lightly browned. Add the finely diced shallots and stir for 2 minutes. Slowly add the chicken and brown each side. Once the fat starts to render, add the Bay leaves and Fish sauce and stir around for 10-12 minutes. The meat mixture will appear oily and fragrant.
  3. Start adding the soy sauce on the meat, a little at a time. This will add a dark caramel hue to the meat and will form some brown bits on the pot. After 5 minutes of browning, add the vinegar 1/4 cup at a time for a total of 1 cup, do not stir or disturb the mixture at this time. Let the mixture slow simmer, uncovered until the vinegar smell has dissipated.
  4. Add the chicken stock, and cover with lid, half open, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. At this point, to achieve a saucy consistency, add the one sugar. To achieve a thicker sauce, enhance it with some cornstarch and dissolve in the broth mixture. This will be your saucy version. Transfer into a bowl. Stir fry the remaining half of crushed garlic by browning it first, then adding the whole batch into the fried garlic, let it simmer and serve while hot.
  6. For a dry version, only add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock and sugar — simmer until the fluid is almost bare, stir around to coat with the fluid that will caramelize the chicken meat. Add the half of garlic and stir fry until completely browned.
  7. Fry the potatoes in some oil and brown each side. Add the potatoes when the meat is simmering or when it is about to dry for the dried version.
  8. Add the coconut to the saucy version and let it simmer until the fluid is reduced in half. This is the coconut version.

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