Cook This: Filipino Chicken Adobo

Tonight, I'm cooking the quintessential Filipino Dish: Chicken Adobo. Our family is from the northern part of the Philippine islands. For every Filipino cook, there's a different adobo. For example, my cousin adds Sprite/7Up instead of water and a hot chili pepper. This is my interpretation of my mom's recipe. I like to douse my rice in adobo sauce so I make a lot of it. 

History lesson: the Philippines was colonized by Spain for four hundred-odd years. Hence the Philippines and Spain and its other former colonies across Latin America, Asia and Africa share similarities in language, dance, cuisine and other manifestations of culture. I'll let Filipino American comedian Rex Navarrete explain...


I'm not versed in the adobos of Latin America, but I understand there are a lot of interpretations, too, some of which only share the name in common, much less the type of preparation or ingredients list.

The idea of adobo Filipino-style is that you simultaneously marinade and cook down the meat so its essences flavor the sauce.


  • Chicken (I prefer dark meat, bone-in chicken - I think it gives a better flavor & stays moist easier)
  • Soy sauce
  • Water
  • White vinegar
  • Dried bay leaves (generous)
  • Fresh ground pepper & whole peppercorns
  • Sugar (if you add too much vinegar)
  • Garlic cloves (generous)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sesame seed oil (expensive, but a little goes a long way!)
  • Cooked jasmine rice (have to have this pang-ulam - with the main dish)

So I'm sure you noticed there aren't any measurements. And ironically, when I was first learning this dish, it made me mad when my mom would be as imprecise with her instruction. Not to worry.

First, most of these items you'll already have in your pantry, so you don't need to know an exact amount when you go grocery shopping. The proportions of soy-vinegar-water I describe in the instructions below. If I'm making dinner for myself and want some leftovers (always do), or for serving four people, pick up one pack of chicken.

Second, everyone's palate is different. Some like theirs more salty (more soy), more sour (more vinegar) or less intense (more water). Try out my version and make adjustments. Over time, every batch will be better and better.

This recipe can also be done with other meats and seafood or even vegetables, but I prefer the chicken.


Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.

Medium heat 1 or 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and a touch (a few teaspoons) of sesame seed oil in a pot big enough for all the chicken to fit comfortably. The amount of oil really depends on the amount of chicken - the chicken will have natural oils if the skin is on that it'll give off, so you don't want to make it too oily, but just something to lightly coat each piece.

Once the oil's heated, add the garlic. You can never have too much garlic. After a minute or three of letting that heat through and get friendly with the oil, add the chicken. Brown the chicken slightly, turning & stirring frequently.

Then add soy sauce. Try a cup for every 4 people you're serving, depending on how big the chicken pieces are - you can always add soy later if it's not salty enough. Add the vinegar - approximately 1 part vinegar for every 3-4 parts soy, depending on how tart you like the adobo (be careful!).

Mix & taste the sauce. You'll probably want to add some water, about a 1/4 - 1/2 cup for every cup of soy you added. You can use sugar & more water to dilute if you add too much vinegar, but doing so will lengthen your cooking time.

Throw in a few bay leaves, fresh ground pepper and whole peppercorns.

2 Notes:

  1. Don't be shy with the peppercorns! They give the sauce a slightly sweet and a nice punch! If you don't like the prospect of biting into one accidentally, they're pretty easy to pick out after it's all said & done.
  2. Ditto for the bay leaves. They lend this smoky, can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-that deliciousness. Again easy to remove after the cooking.

Mix & taste sauce again & adjust where needed over the course of cooking.

Now just wait & stir every five to ten minutes to make sure each piece and part of the chicken gets a decent amount of time in the marinade. Let the juice come to a rolling boil, then lower the heat down to a quick simmer. You want the excess water to evaporate - so don't cover the pot completely - & it will concentrate down into a really nice, delicious sauce. Your whole house will smell amazing :) so close your bedroom door!

The cooking will take about 30 minutes depending on the amount of chicken, whether it has bones or not and how big the pieces are. You can't really overcook/dry out dark chicken on the bone, that's why I use it. It takes longer to cook, but that also gives the sauce more time to get happy as well. By the time the meat is falling off the bone, your sauce will be concentrated and lovely.

After the sauce is done and the chicken's fully cooked, serve chicken with the sauce spooned atop cooked rice. Yum!

Here's a few pictures from my cooking tonight! Click a thumbnail for a full-screen view.

Filipino chicken adobo -- Final product! Done!