Growing up, my mom had these super sweet Filipino coworkers who, for some reason, enjoyed making me Filipino dishes. That’s why I grew up eating pancit, lumpia, and this dish chicken adobo. I was brought back to those moments while watching the show Selena & Chef during quarantine. Seeing Selena make this dish with Jordan Andino made me want to make it myself. It is also one of the simplest dishes to make with less than 10 ingredients. This recipe is my version of chicken adobo.
What is adobo?
Adobo is a cooking method used in the Philippines. It involves braising protein in a liquid composed of vinegar, soy sauce, peppercorns, and garlic. This cooking method is a combination of Filipino and Chinese cultures. Filipino natives used to use vinegar and salt to preserve food in the tropical climate of the Philippines. When Chinese traders arrived, they brought with them their native ingredients like soy sauce, which took the place of salt in adobo.
The name adobo is a derivative of the Spanish word adobar meaning marinade or pickling sauce. A Spanish Friar named Pedro de San Buenaventura is credited as the first person to call this cooking method adobo. Specifically, he called it “adobo de los naturales”.
There are many variations of adobo across the Philippines. All kinds of proteins from fish to chicken to pork are used. Some have coconut milk like in this one from my friend Rezel. Other ingredients that can be included are sugar, turmeric, and atsuete oil. The flavor profile of a properly cooked adobo is tangy, sweet, and salty. My version of the braising liquid includes garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, bay leaves and peppercorns. I personally like the addition of brown sugar to balance out the intense umami and salty flavors of the soy sauce and oyster sauce.
Ingredients, Substitutions & Adjustments
These substitutions and adjustments are based on my own preferences and on this recipe.
- Chicken thighs – You can use any kind of chicken for this recipe. I chose to use bone-in chicken thighs because I love how juicy they get.
- Garlic – One of the traditional ingredients used in adobos. Adds a nice flavor to the braising liquid.
- Oyster sauce – Adds umami and salty flavors to this braising liquid. You can substitute oyster sauce with soy sauce. For a gluten free alternative, use tamari.
- Dark soy sauce – This ingredient adds an umami flavor and gives the chicken its dark brown color. You can use regular soy sauce as well, but you won’t get the same coloring. For a gluten free alternative, use tamari.
- White vinegar – Most adobos traditionally use white vinegar. A good substitute is apple cider vinegar.
- Light brown sugar – The sweetness from the sugar balances out the salty flavors of the oyster sauce and dark soy sauce.
- Bay leaves and black peppercorns – Adds a slightly bitter flavor to the dish which lightens up the heavy flavors.
Making this chicken adobo
First heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a big pot. I used a Dutch oven. Add the garlic and chicken thighs, skin side down. Sear the chicken on both sides. Once done searing the chicken, add the oyster sauce and soy sauce. Mix to the coat the chicken. Add the vinegar, brown sugar, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Bring the liquid to a boil and lower to a simmer. Simmer on low heat for 1 hour. Flip the chicken every 20 minutes, so each side gets an even amount of color. Serve chicken over a bed of rice. I personally also like eating this with pickled vegetables. I don’t think this is very traditional but it’s good!
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- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a big pot. I used a Dutch oven. Add the garlic and chicken thighs, skin side down. Sear the chicken on both sides.
- Once done searing the chicken, add the oyster sauce and soy sauce. Mix to the coat the chicken.
- Add the vinegar, brown sugar, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Bring the liquid to a boil and lower to a simmer.
- Simmer on low heat for 1 hour. Flip the chicken every 20 minutes, so each side gets an even amount of color.
- Serve chicken over a bed of rice.