A Sweet, Tangy, Mostly Hands-Off Pork Adobo Recipe

April 26, 2017

When I had the opportunity to cook with a talented Filipina home cook, Magda, I knew exactly what we could tackle: adobo, which is considered the national dish of the Philippines. I was excited to taste it. Adobo is typically made with bone-in chicken or pork ribs, but other proteins or even vegetables could be used; what’s consistent is the marinade, always a blend of vinegar and soy sauce.​

You're going to need “sweet” soy sauce to make adobo. Found in Asian markets or in the international aisles of many grocery stores, it’s a blend of soy sauce and sugar. If you can’t find sweet soy sauce, you can make your own.

Adobo, Magda says, is a matter of taste. The ratios in her recipe provide for a balanced sauce, but you can adjust the vinegar and sweet soy sauce until the taste is just as tart or sweet as you like. Another pro tip: While you are cooking, if you taste the sauce and find it to be too tart, drop in a small peeled potato. Leave it alone—it should remain whole. This will mellow out the sauce and the potato itself will taste quite good when you serve the dish.

Magda also mentioned that another flavor option is a tablespoon of paprika. It will give the sauce a red hue and intensify the marinade. When she makes her adobo with chicken instead of pork, Magda likes to get skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, remove the skin herself, and then make a slit down the bone to separate the meat a bit. That way, the marinade, which only needs to soak the chicken for a few hours, really seeps into the meat. I was lucky enough to try both ​and preferred the intense flavor of the pork, which, unlike the chicken, enjoys a two-day soak in the marinade. This lets the meat become fully infused with the syrupy soy and vinegar, and fall off the bone when you dig in. Magda has the butcher cut the rack of pork in half lengthwise, and separates the ribs before marinating them. Hence, you end up with "mini" ribs, which I loved snacking on.​

Photo by Julia Gartland

The best part? While the pork does require a few days in the marinade, once you are ready to cook, it couldn’t be easier! Everything gets tossed in the pot, and the marinade transforms into the rich, silky adobo sauce studded with onions and garlic. It's a one-pot wonder I can no longer live without.​

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mary-Ann
  • amysarah
  • Jessica
  • zingyginger
  • Luciana DeCrosta
    Luciana DeCrosta
Cookbook Author. Heirloom Kitchen.Food52 contributing editor & Recipe Tester.


Mary-Ann September 17, 2017
These tips and variations on the traditional adobo are great! I would love to try the long marination one of these days. I have used baby back ribs for adobo many times. It's admittedly not traditional but it sure is a winner every time. My husband grew up with adobo made with very little soy sauce but with added fish sauce to the vinegar. It makes for a slightly paler adobo but the complexity of flavors sure makes it a family favorite. They are from a region of the Philippines where fish sauce reigns. In another region of the country, coconut milk and even a chili pepper similar to jalapeño are added towards the end of cooking. The latter is certainly not the norm, but, it makes for a great variant every so often.
Anna F. October 13, 2017
Mary-Ann, THANK YOU for your comment. I completely agree. Traditions for each family vary and while many times we veer from known traditions, the end results can be delicious! Glad to hear you and Magda discovered the deliciousness of pairing ribs and this amazing sauce. I think next time I will try your husband's method. Sounds like it would be a great umami kick! xx
amysarah April 26, 2017
For the last year or so, I've been trying several different adobo recipes (mostly chicken) - no two are quite the same, like many iconic home cooked dishes. Intrigued by using pork ribs! Will try this one soon. Also, with my Hungarian roots, I have to admit that paprika makes sense to me in almost everything - even if not 'traditional,' I can see how its earthy flavor would compliment the adobo flavor.
Anna F. April 26, 2017
thank you for your comment. I find that every home cook puts his or her own twist on the recipe and that's what makes cooking so fun! The ribs are fall off the bone tender and the sauce is so good! If you try it, I would love to know your thoughts. Best!
Jessica April 26, 2017
This recipe sounds delicious! I am looking forward to trying it, although I think I'll try it with the bone-in chicken thighs, as I love chicken! Thanks to you and Magda for sharing the recipe.
Anna F. April 26, 2017
Thanks Jessica! The chicken thighs taste amazing for this recipe! Chicken can marinate for an hour or up to one day, then the process is the same. Magda made both for me.
zingyginger April 26, 2017
While this sounds lovely, it seems like an Americanized version of Adobo. I grew up in the Philippines and paprika is NOT a traditional ingredient. You may want to ask Magda about achuete - it's something that is more likely to be used there. I suppose anything can be made Adobo-style but pork ribs are not traditional either (more likely pork butt or pork belly). You already have a very good adobo recipe here in Food52 and this is the traditional style:
Anna F. April 26, 2017
Thanks for your comment. I will definitely ask Magda about achuete. She mentioned paprika and I did find other recipes where it was used. It might just not be used widespread. Its an optional ingredient. The ribs are something her family enjoys and they are very good with the sauce.
Luciana D. April 26, 2017
I think it's so cool how you're celebrating other cultures! Can't wait to try this! I'm having so much fun following your work. You're taking us around the world in our very own kitchen!
Anna F. April 26, 2017
Thank you! Recognizing immigrant recipes truly shows is all how important ethnic food is here in the US. Thanks for your comment!
Celeste N. April 26, 2017
Just as Michelle said, I have never seen adobo with pork ribs or paprika. I think there are, of course, variations across homes, but with this kind of platform, I'm disappointed F52 didn't seek out a Filipino person to write about and share this recipe. We have enough columbusing in food media as is.

PS - That basmati rice in the photo?! Come on, you guys. You can do better than that.
Anna F. April 26, 2017
The recipe was cooked and shared with me by a Filipino woman. Magda immigrated to the US to help family and will be returning there to retire in a few years. She likes making it with pork ribs because of the added flavor. In addition, paprika has been used in adobos for its color and preservation qualities.
Celeste N. April 26, 2017
Mmm like I said, there are variations everywhere but you're still columbusing.
Michelle April 26, 2017
Sorry, I have to be a grump about this. But it's rare that FIlipino adobo is made with pork ribs; it's usually made with chicken or pork belly/butt. And while adobo is a national dish of the Philippines, its preparation really varies by region — some provinces uses coconut milk, others just use vinegar and soy sauce. The addition of paprika is NOT traditional. Usually the only spices are bay leaves and whole black peppercorns.
Anna F. April 26, 2017
Paprika was used in early years for and while not common today, it is still used by some Filipino cooks. As with any dish, different families adhere to change aspects of a dish to their taste. I didn't know about the use of coconut milk, that sounds delicious and thank you for sharing.