Peruvian

Slow-Cooker Peruvian Pork Adobo Is My Heritage in a Crock-Pot

Adobo arequipeño gets a modern upgrade.

January 30, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

The Spanish (and Portuguese) gave us a lot of the ingredients that make Latin American cuisine what it is today: a deep appreciation for pork and knowledge of how to cook the whole animal, the use of olive oil, and the omnipresence of onion and garlic, just to name a few. Whether you call yourself Hispanic, Latino, or simply Carlos, these ingredients indisputably unite us.

Many of us have also inherited cooking techniques from the Spanish. Over time, different communities added their own touches using local ingredients and catering to local tastes. Other peoples who immigrated freely (or by force) to Latin America also contributed to the evolution of these preparations. Sometimes the only Spanish influence that remains in a food is the word used to describe it.

One culinary term that the Spanish gave to almost all of its former colonies is adobo. In Spain, this is a method for semi-preserving meat in a marinade of vinegar and paprika, allowing you to keep it from spoiling for a littler longer but not indefinitely. You still need to cook it at some point. Besides preserving, the spices in adobo also penetrate the meat and gave it an intense flavor. When you get around to cooking meat that has undergone this adobo treatment, you seldom need to add any other seasonings.

The Spanish left this technique behind in Peru, where it became embedded in the local cuisine of Arequipa, a region just south of the nation’s capital, Lima. Among limeños, Arequipa holds a certain gastronomic allure similar to the pull that New Orleans has in the United States.

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Top Comment:
“The "carne" in this dish is pork shoulder, and the adovo is made with onion, garlic, Chimayo red chiles, oregano, s+p, but surprizingly no vinegar. Funny how the adovo found its way into so many people's hearts. ”
— Florezilla G.
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Before the Spanish occupied Arequipa in the 16th century, the region was an Inca stronghold reportedly founded by the fourth Inca ruler, Mayta Capac. Prior to that, Arequipa was the home of the Wari Empire. The presence of native civilizations in addition to the Spanish conquistadors means that arequipeño cuisine makes equal use of European and American ingredients. Many ingredients are rarely used in Lima, which makes this regional cuisine particularly exotic to residents of the capital.

An ingredient that features prominently in the foods of Arequipa is chicha de jora. Chicha de jora was the Incas’ alcoholic drink of choice, and is still one of the preferred tipples throughout the Peruvian highlands. This fermented corn beer is just a bit sour, just a bit sweet, mildly effervescent, and can give you quite a buzz, particularly when drunk out of the massive glasses in which they are typically served. Chicha de jora, like many other alcoholic beverages, also helps preserve and tenderize meats and impart them with deep flavor. You can probably guess where I’m going with this.

Arequipeños took the idea of the adobo marinade and replaced the vinegar with chicha de jora. They also added ají panca chiles for a deep, almost chocolatey flavor and rocoto—the emblematic chile of the region—for a fiery kick that is the hallmark of arequipeño cuisine. They balanced the heat of the chiles with sweet spices. Large chunks of pork spent the night in this mixture along with onions and garlic. The next morning, everything is tipped into a clay pot and cooked over a low flame until the meat is fork-tender.

My dad’s best friend from college is half-arequipeño and ended up settling in New York City. He would come down to visit us in Miami every couple of years, and Tío (as we called him) would want us to take him to all of the Peruvian restaurants in Miami, claiming that the Peruvian food in New York just wasn’t as good.

On one of his last visits, we discovered that the owner of a popular Peruvian grocery in Miami was also a characato (the nickname for arequipeños). Tío and the grocer chatted for a bit before the latter brought out a hot bowl of adobo. He asked my dad’s friend if he wanted rice or bread with it. Little did the limeños there know that this was a test: If you ate adobo with rice, you weren’t really an arequipeño. Tío insisted on bread with a facial expression that implied, “How could you even offer rice with adobo?” The grocer smiled and went back to the kitchen again, returning with a shot of anisette. A true arequipeño always accompanies his adobo with anisette.

As Tío finished his bowl of tender, spicy pork stew, cartoonishly patting his stomach in satisfaction, we chatted about adobo and whether it was available in New York. He stated that he was excited when a Filipino acquaintance offered him adobo once. The presentation looked similar to the adobo his mother would make. However, he was disappointed in finding that it wasn’t spicy and was made with vinegar.

My teenaged self was surprised to hear that a country so far away from Latin America could have a dish that sounded so familiar. I knew that Spain had colonized the Philippines, and that there were several Filipinos at my Catholic church with names like Maria and Armando. But it never crossed my mind that along with names and religion, the Spanish would leave their culinary mark on the archipelago as well.

It had taken me a while to not automatically think of the pork stew from Arequipa whenever I see or hear the word “adobo.” It took me longer still to get around to trying the Filipino version, remembering my tío’s less-than-favorable opinion of it. We Peruvians like to think of ourselves as having distinctive tastes when it comes to food, so I usually take a Peruvian’s opinions on the matter as gospel truth.

It wasn’t until I was dating a very proud Filipino ballet dancer who had just moved to Miami from Manila that I had the opportunity to taste his country’s version of adobo (the things we do for love…or lust). I was surprised to see that besides its name, the bowl of adobo at one of the very few Filipino eateries in Miami looked very similar to what I knew from my own country. Once I got past the two obvious flavor differences—a lack of heat, but sourness from vinegar—I noticed that the stew was pretty similar to adobo arequipeño.

This boyfriend and I had long conversations about gastronomy, and I learned that aside from adobo, Filipinos also had quite a lot of other foods whose names I recognized: flan, turrón, lechón, tocino. Each of these foods had the common threads of Iberian ingredients and techniques that connected them to their tocayos (namesakes) on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. But they were also different in ways that reflected the Philippines’ unique history and geography.

I now like to view all adobo eaters as having shared a similar historic experience that has influenced how we eat. This shared experience and the similarities we find in our foods can help to bring us together but not at the expense of losing our own unique identities. It should also not cloud our ability to see people as individuals. After all, whether you make your adobo with chicha de jora or vinegar, every cook has his or her own way of preparing this stew that reflects a personal experience.

My experience as someone named Carlos who was born in Peru and raised in the United States has led me to create my own version of adobo. I marinate the pork in hard cider, which I can get almost anywhere. After resting in the refrigerator overnight, I let it gently simmer in a slow cooker all day so that it is ready for dinner when I return from work. I accompany it with crusty bread and a shot of Colombian aguardiente because it tastes like anisette, goes down smoothly, and is what I have in my bar.

Have you ever had adobo arequipeño? Let us know in the comments below.

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I was born in Peru to a Limeño father and a Texan mother. We moved to Miami when I was five, and I grew up in the "Kendall-suyo" neighborhood—often called the 5th province of the Inca Empire because of its large Peruvian population. I've been writing about food since I was 11 years old, and in 2016 I received a master's degree in Gastronomy from Boston University. A travel columnist at Food52, I'm currently based in Hollywood, Florida—another vibrant Peruvian community—where I am a writer, culinary tour guide, and consultant.

14 Comments

Nancy C. February 2, 2019
I’m afraid the Note showing the substitution for the paste didn’t make it into the article. What is it?
 
Lori M. February 3, 2019
On the recipe page it is there: "Note: Ají panca is a dried chile that imparts a deep, mildly spicy flavor to many Peruvian dishes. It's typically soaked and ground into a paste. You can find jars of ají panca paste at many Latin American groceries or online, and it's worth getting if you want to make many other Peruvian dishes. If you cannot find ají panca paste, use 1 tablespoon sweet paprika and one teaspoon cayenne pepper."
 
Florezilla G. January 31, 2019
Hi Carlos, I am greatly enjoying all of your stories on Peruvian food and traditions. I am a Peruvian who moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico as a teenager. I was disapointed by the fact that the state had no Peruvian restaurants or products (or Peruvians!) but it was a great experience nonetheless. Much to my surprise, I discovered that Nuevo Mexicanos had their own version of Adovo, they called it Carne Adovada! And the roots of the recipe comes from the Spanish. The "carne" in this dish is pork shoulder, and the adovo is made with onion, garlic, Chimayo red chiles, oregano, s+p, but surprizingly no vinegar. Funny how the adovo found its way into so many people's hearts.
 
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Carlos C. January 31, 2019
Oh that must have been disappointing to move somewhere where you cannot find your foods. I'm sure you had friends and relatives sending you care packages. I am actually going to NM later this year and am excited to try the local specialties, including carne adovada.

It *is* interesting that there is no vinegar or other acid in the Nuevo Mexicano version. Maybe they found that the dry environment and the spices was enough to help preserve the meat. Remember that a lot of Peru can get very humid...and we won't even talk about the Philippines. And it is funny how adobo/adovo found its way in so many kitchens.
 
Florezilla G. January 31, 2019
Being Peruvians somewhere without Peruvian food was both a curse and a blessing. Yes, we will receive care packages and bring back as much as we could with us when visiting Peru (getting us in trouble with customs at times), but it was also great way to get out of our comfort zone and try Native, Asian, Indian, African, Mexican, fusion, and all the other cuisines available. Sometimes, when I visit Peru I get cravings for Vietnamese food but I have to settle with Chifa (both delicious!).
Regarding the lack of vinegar, I think it is because NM chiles are VERY hot and you are probably right, the humidity difference is huge. I guess I forgot to mention but the marinate does have water, but the environment doesn't haha
Enjoy your time in NM! How exciting!
PS: Since I've left (I live in CT now) there has been a few restaurants popping up. No offense, but I feel like your Tio felt with NY Peruvian restaurants, not as great.
 
Gail January 31, 2019
Do you think this recipe would work well in an instapot? I’ve had great success using one without compromising flavor.
 
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Carlos C. January 31, 2019
Yes! It can definitely work in an instant pot. The only thing you need to do is reduce the amount of liquid as pressure cooking retains a lot of liquid, and you can end up with a soup. I would use 2 cups of stock instead of 3 cups of stock. Cook for about 45 minutes on high pressure (or the meat/stew setting).

You can also cook the meat without the sliced onions in the 3 cups of stock + the marinade for 45 minutes. Then uncover, add the sliced onions, and boil on the sautee setting (medium to high) until you get a consistency you like.

Adding the onions to the pressure cooker at the beginning of the recipe can obliterate them.
 
Eric K. January 31, 2019
Carlos, this was my lunch (and often dinner) for 5 days in a row...and I was VERY okay with that. Also, I'm really fascinated by the cook time (8 hours on high). Usually slow cooker recipes are 8 hours/low or 4 hours/high. But 8 hours/high made the meat SO tender, which is making me rethink all of my slow cooker recipes now...
 
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Carlos C. January 31, 2019
I'm so glad you liked it! I find that the high setting on a slow cooker is still a simmer. It is like the the med-low setting on a stove top. Sometimes you need slow and not-so-low cooking to get certain results.
 
Elizabeth B. January 30, 2019
Hi Carlos! All I can say is yum!!
 
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Carlos C. January 30, 2019
I hope you get to try it! It's super easy to make.
 
Whiteantlers January 30, 2019
Hey Carlos!

In addition to your piece being a wonderful and fascinating read, the description of the Peruvian adobo made my mouth water. : )
 
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Carlos C. January 30, 2019
Thank you so much! I hope you get to cook it.
 
Eric K. January 31, 2019
Whiteantlers, it's very good!

And thank you for reading Carlos' piece. :)