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.
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.
- 2 pounds pork ribs, butcher should cut racks in half horizontally
- 2 bay leaves, cut in half
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled, left whole but smashed
- 1/2 medium white onion, sliced in thin half moons
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup sweet soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup white vinegar