This chicken adobo recipe honors the authentic ingredients that go into making this popular Filipino dish. I grew up believing a rule that you aren't allowed to deviate too far from classic Filipino recipes. But Filipino food is meant to be flexible, so call this my take on chicken adobo! Despite the regional variations of chicken adobo, everyone expects a foundational profile of tangy, umami, and meaty flavors.
Update Disclosure: This post has been updated for one or more of the following reasons: easier reading, updated photos, clearer instructions, and just plain ol' improvements to the recipe (as noted).
During one night of experimentation, I decided to cook chicken adobo in the cast iron instead of a pot then braise the chicken in its own sauce in the oven. The result was tender meat with crispy skin that was devoured in one sitting. I haven't looked back since! Listen, I love stewed soft chicken adobo as much as I love arroz caldo, but the texture of this cast-iron cooking style with the chicken's crispy skin and tender meat feels like I get best of both worlds!
Brief History of Chicken Adobo
As with most Filipino-style dishes, the term adobo came from Spanish influence, borrowed from the word adobar. Adobar means "marinade", a reference made by Spanish colonizers who witnessed Filipinos braising meat in palayok (clay pots). The rest, as they say, is history. Although its name has Spanish roots, chicken adobo is truly a native Filipino recipe.
Nowadays, there are so many variations of Filipino adobo, ranging from the types of spices added to the sauce to the kind of meat used in the recipe. Nevertheless, the two constant featured ingredients in adobo remain the same - soy sauce and vinegar.
Here is a quick review of ingredients for this recipe before your start!
- Chicken Thighs
- Soy Sauce
- White Vinegar
- Garlic Cloves
- Bay Leaves
If you want to do it right the first time, you can look for two particular ingredients at your local Asian grocery store.
- Black Swan Soy Sauce: This is the unofficial national soy sauce brand of the Philippines and will give the most authentic flavor to your dish!
- Datu Puti Vinegar: There is also an unspoken national brand for vinegar and that would be vinegar from the Datu Puti brand. This vinegar comes from sugar cane and has a milder flavor than most other vinegars.
- Soy Sauce: If you don't have the Black Swan brand, you can use dark soy sauce instead. You may have use less and dilute with water to create a lighter taste similar to Black Swan.
- Vinegar: The vinegar to use should have a lighter, less sour flavor. Try the following alternatives to replace cane vinegar:
- White Vinegar
- Rice Wine Vinegar
- Malt Vinegar
- Meat: Chicken is a popular choice for adobo, but pork is just as popular. Opt for fattier cuts if you decide to use pork. You can use a variety of cuts, but the fattier cut the better so it can absorb all those flavors!
- Make Rice Before: This goes without saying, but it's easily forgotten! Make sure you have your rice ready before you finish cooking the adobo.
- Season Your Cast Iron: Check that your cast iron is well-seasoned. Although you are only using a small amount of vinegar for this recipe, make sure that your cast iron is well-seasoned so it doesn't strip. It shouldn't, as the braising time is not that long and the amount of vinegar is minimal.
- Batch Fry the Chicken: The chicken pieces will shrink as they cook, so I recommend you cook a few at a time to allow them to shrink. Then when the first batch has browned on both sides and no longer sticks to the pan, remove the pieces and place them on a clean plate. Add all the chicken pieces together when you finish batch frying.
- Play With Ratios: This recipe is a rough guideline. Why? Because Filipino food is meant to be adjusted and adapted to the person's taste and preference. So make it a few times with tweaks here and there to find what you like!
How to Make Cast Iron Chicken Adobo
Here is a summary of how to cook chicken adobo:
- Marinate the chicken in spices and seasonings.
- Separate the liquid and set it aside from the chicken.
- Brown the chicken in the cast iron.
- Braise the chicken pieces in the marinade sauce in the oven.
- Crisp the skin by broiling the chicken in the oven.
Making cast iron chicken adobo takes some planning and more involvement than traditional chicken adobo made in a pot. I will also say that good things take time and effort, so this will be worth your while!
How to Eat and Serve
This Filipino-style chicken adobo recipe is not quite complete without rice. Chicken adobo is considered ulam. Ulam is a protein dish that accompanies steamed white rice in Filipino cuisine. So the simplest and most traditional way to eat adobo is next to piping hot steamed white rice.
Chicken Adobo in Cast Iron Recipe
Chicken and Marinade
- 1 kilogram chicken thighs, deboned (~ 2 pounds)
- 85 grams soy sauce use a Filipino brand such as Datu Puti or Silver Swan
- 1½ teaspoon sugar
- 5-8 cloves garlic, crushed
- 60 grams white vinegar use a Filipino brand such as Datu Puti
- 240 grams water
- 1½ teaspoon sugar
- 4 dried bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Marinate the Chicken
- Place the chicken thighs in a bowl, container, or plastic bag.
- In another bowl, mix the soy sauce, sugar and crushed garlic together.
- Pour the soy sauce mix over the chicken and cover the container. Then place in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour or up to overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F ). Remove the chicken from the container and place on a plate.
- Take the leftover marinade sauce from the container and pour it into a bowl. Add the vinegar, sugar, and water then mix everything together. If you don't feel like you have enough soy sauce marinade, you can add up to 2 more tbsp. Set aside.
- Heat a cast iron on medium heat and add oil. Add the chicken thighs skin down first and let them pan fry until the skin releases from the pan easily on its own without sticking. Then flip over to cook the other side. You may have to cook the chicken in batches depending on the size of your cast iron. Cook the chicken until the bottom also releases from the pan easily.
- Place all of the cooked chicken in the pan skin side down. Pour the soy sauce and vinegar mix over the chicken making sure the cast iron doesn't overflow. The liquid shouldn't cover the chicken. Sprinkle the black peppercorn over the chicken. Add the bay leaves.
- Place in the preheated oven to cook for 30-40 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 75°F (165°F)
- When there is 8-5 minutes left, change the temperature to 200°C (400°F) and change the setting to broil in order to crisp the chicken skin. You may need to move your cast iron closer to the top grill. Watch this part carefully to make sure you don't burn the chicken skin!
- Serve over white rice.
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