I’m making adobo! Adobo is a traditional Filipino dish that often contains a type of meat (chicken or pork is the norm, from what I hear) and the protein is simmered in and marinated with a sauce that typically has a vinegar, bay leaf, peppercorn, and garlic base. Yum.
I’ve actually been gearing up to make adobo for several months now, mostly since I saw Sam Sifton’s New York Times magazine article about adobo that was published in January. The recipe looked simple enough: the main ingredients were chicken, rice vinegar, soy sauce and coconut milk, and judging from the copious amounts of rice vinegar and soy products I go through every month, the flavor profiles seemed to connect perfectly with my favorites.
It wasn’t until recently that I decided to do a lot more research in order to delve into the esotericism of adobo — Sifton warned readers off the bat that the ingredients in adobo are furiously defended by and lovingly particular to adobo enthusiasts:
“Husbands argue with wives about adobo. Friends shoot each other dirty looks about the necessity of including coconut milk or soy sauce in the recipe. There are disputations over the kind of vinegar to use, over the use of sugar, over the inclusion of garlic and how much of it. Some use chicken exclusively in the dish, others pork, some a combination of the two.”
I wasn’t actually aware of how varied adobo recipes are until I started looking around on the internet, starting off first with the 200+ comments on Sifton’s NYT blog post “How Do You Make Adobo?” The post was created after Sifton’s email inbox overflowed in response to the adobo recipe that was published along with his article, which was adapted from the Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn. Sifton had so many people commenting on and altering the recipe that he decided to take the dispute to the community.
The resulting comments are extraordinarily different and opinions on adobo ingredients are more often divergent than convergent. For one “Don’t use soy sauce!” comment there are five differing responses, including “Do use soy sauce!”, “Use reduced sodium soy sauce!”, “Don’t use Chinese or Japanese soy sauce as that’s not traditional!” or “Use Filipino Silver Swan soy sauce!” Other variations include whether to use coconut milk (general consensus seemed to be no), and the state of the peppercorns (most people rooted for whole or crushed peppercorns simmered in the sauce and then strained out later).
Close to everyone who commented on the blog post was vary adamant about their version of adobo; it seemed like everyone had a grandmother who cooked the dish first and then passed the recipe down to them, which I thought was charming. It also made sense of the sometimes agitated adobo disagreements. Sometimes these disputes would border on uncomfortable — adobo newbies would post their own takes on recipes that adobo purists would take as sacrilege. Some people used lemon juice instead of vinegar (it can’t be! said some), beef instead of chicken or pork (too Americanized! said others), balsamic vinegar instead of white, rice or cider vinegar (you can’t do that! some said), added turmeric to the ingredients (that’s a curry, not an adobo! some moaned) and in an odd switch-up, Pinot Grigio instead of vinegar (no one responded to this one, maybe out of politeness).