Food from My Childhood – Chicken Adobo

This is my first Filipino recipe for Triple F (hee hee, I like nicknames), and how appropriate that it’s Chicken Adobo. Adobo has very few ingredients and the flavor strikes a fine balance of salty, sour, and a touch of sweet. Adobo is the national dish of the Philippines, but with that being said every family has their own recipe for adobo. Even my version of adobo is different from my mom’s version. This is due to the fact that my mom almost never measures when she cooks. This makes things complicated when I want to make a dish that I had growing up. It has been shown that my memory isn’t reliable when it comes to remembering recipes. So I called my mom to get the recipe from her.

This is how the conversation went:

  • Me – “I want to make chicken adobo. How do you make it?”
  • Mom – “It’s easy. It’s just chicken, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, pepper corns, and bay leaves….. and the ancient Chinese secret.”
  • Me – “Mom, we’re Filipino….”
  • Mom – “I know… It’s SUGAR!”
  • Me – “I know. You’ve been saying that since I can remember and I still don’t get it….. How much soy and vinegar do I add?”
  • Mom – “I don’t know, I just taste it until it’s right.”
  • Me – “…….”
  • Mom – “Flish? Are you there?”
  • Me – “Yeah….”

This is a common interaction between me and my mom. She tells me the ingredients and vague proportions and then tells me to keep tasting until it’s right….. Yeah.

So armed with the basic ingredient list and my oh-so-reliable memory, I ventured to make some food from my childhood. With lots of tasting and adding more of this and some of that, I eventually ended up making something pretty close to my mom’s adobo. My adobo tends to have more soy sauce than my mom’s since Jeff doesn’t like the adobo too sour. The addition of the “Ancient Chinese secret” balances out the tang of the vinegar and saltiness of the soy.

Here’s the cast of characters (ok, so I forgot the sugar despite the “ancient Chinese secret” joke. I guess it’s karma for giving my mom a hard time it):

Basically you can use the basic proportions that I give and adjust it according to your taste. It’s a really flexible recipe, that’s why there’s so much variation recipes from family to family. Also, you can adobo almost anything. Adobo is the basic soy, vinegar, garlic, peppercorn, bay leaf mixture and you can add whatever protein or vegetable you like. If you are new to Filipino food, definitely give this a try.

Chicken Adobo

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  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 2 lbs skin-on chicken thighs (or whatever chicken pieces you like, preferably bone-in and skin-on)
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar (I’ve also used apple cider vinegar, but if you want to be super Pinoy then you can get a Filipino brand of vinegar like Datu Puti)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the chicken skin side down and cook until brown, about 5 minutes. Flip and brown for another 5 minutes. When the chicken is fully browned, skim some of the excess fat from the pot, but leave about 1-2 teaspoons. Add the garlic to the pot and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients (soy, vinegar, bay leaves, peppercorns, sugar, and water) to the pot and bring to a boil. After the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer the chicken for 20-30 minutes. If you notice that the sauce is reducing too much, add more water. There should be plenty of liquid in the final product.

After 20 minutes, the chicken is cooked through and you can taste the sauce and adjust to your liking. Add more soy if it isn’t salty enough, add more vinegar if you want more of a tang, or add more sugar to balance out the vinegar bite.

At this time, you have two options: 1) if you are starving, you can serve the chicken right away, or 2) if you’re not quite ready for dinner, put the pot on low and continue to simmer. The longer you cook it, the chicken will just get more tender and more delicious! Just make sure to add more water if you see that the liquid is getting low.

Serve the chicken over rice with a little sauce drizzled over the top of everything! Sarap (yummy in Tagalog)!!


7 thoughts on “Food from My Childhood – Chicken Adobo

  1. I never brown the chicken, I just throw the whole thing in the pot and simmer til reduce, I’ll try it your way, I use the same ingredients, but I use all chicken parts…

    • My mom doesn’t brown the chicken either, I just like the extra depth it gives the dish. I also prefer dark meat to light meat, me and my brother used to fight over the drumsticks, lol.

  2. Hi Flora!

    This looks really yummy!

    I’m compiling a list of all the different ways to cook adobo in a quest to find what a true filipino adobo is today, and I’m happy to include your adobo recipe in my article at I hope you don’t mind the link from my site to yours =)

    Keep in touch!

  3. Pingback: 1001 Adobo Recipes Recipe |

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