This chicken adobo recipe honors the authentic ingredients that go into making this popular Filipino dish. I grew up believing an unspoken rule that you aren't allowed to deviate too far from the classic recipe for Filipino-style adobo. Despite the regional variations of chicken adobo, everyone expects a foundational profile of tangy, umami, and meaty flavors.
The cooking technique is a twist I discovered over time making chicken adobo. It started with purchasing a cast iron that I didn't know how to utilize effectively at first. 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 we 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 having the 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.
The Ingredients of Filipino Adobo
There is a delicate balance of soy sauce and vinegar to maintain in a good adobo recipe. This is usually determined by the cook. More vinegar can be added if a stronger tangy flavor is preferred. Alternatively, more soy sauce can be used if the cook craves a saltier flavor. I use a 1:2 vinegar to soy sauce ratio because I marinate the chicken with the soy sauce first, causing the chicken to absorb the salt flavor. I add vinegar to whatever is left of the soy sauce marinade. You would end up with a ratio closer to equal parts.
If this is your first time following a chicken adobo recipe, I want to make sure I give you the version closest to the traditional dish. That means the type of soy sauce and vinegar will matter. Firstly, Filipino soy sauce is vastly different from other Asian soy sauces. Typical Filipino soy sauce (toyo) is generally saltier, darker, and thinner. The most common Filipino vinegar (suka) comes from sugarcane, but Filipino coconut vinegar also works. The standard brands to look for in an Asian market include Silver Swan and Datu Puti.
Not having these ingredients should not stop you from trying to make Filipino-style adobo. As long as you have salty Asian soy sauce and clear or white vinegar, give this recipe a try!
Cast Iron Chicken Adobo Instructions
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!
Marinade the Chicken
The more straightforward way to cook chicken adobo is to throw chicken and other ingredients in a pot, leaving them to simmer for a long time. But many Filipinos will tell you that any elevated adobo recipe consists of a marinating stage. This step will allow the chicken to embody the soy sauce and garlic before cooking, adding a depth of flavor to the adobo.
Start off by crushing garlic cloves. Please note that this recipe has a recommended quantity of garlic for adobo. Use as much garlic as you want but make sure to smash them to release the flavors in the marinade overnight. Take a bag or a shallow bowl and place the chicken thighs in it.
You will then mix your marinade in a separate bowl. Add the soy sauce and sugar, then mix until the sugar granules have disappeared. Add the crushed garlic cloves and then pour the marinade into the bag of chicken.
Close the container and marinate the chicken in the fridge for at least one hour or up to overnight.
Separate the Chicken and Marinade
When you finish marinating the chicken, separate the chicken from the marinade. Pull the chicken out of the container and place the pieces onto a plate.
Take the marinating liquid and pour it into a bowl. Add the vinegar and one and a half teaspoons of sugar plus the water. If you prefer a saltier taste, you can add up to two more teaspoons of soy sauce to the mix. Use a fork to mix everything and set the bowl aside.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F ). Then add some oil to a cast iron pan to pan-fry the chicken. Place the chicken pieces skin-side down first and let them fry until the skin no longer sticks to the cast iron. Flip the chicken over to brown the other side.
Tip You may have to batch fry the chicken at this step. 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.
Add Adobo Sauce to Chicken
Pour the soy sauce and vinegar mixture onto the chicken, spreading it evenly. Then top the chicken with the black peppercorns and bay leaves. Move the seasonings around as needed to expose the chicken skin as much as possible. This will allow the skin to crisp up in the oven heat.
Oven Bake Filipino-Style Adobo
Remove the adobo from the stovetop heat and place the cast iron pan into the oven. Braise it uncovered for thirty to forty minutes. The oven's heat should make the liquid in the chicken adobo bubble slightly, but it should not boil or simmer aggressively.
Move the cast-iron pan closer to the top grill when you have about eight to five minutes left. Set the temperature to 200°C (400°F) and change the setting to broil to focus on crisping up the top of the chicken.
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.
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Authentic Chicken Adobo in Cast Iron
Chicken and Marinade
- 1 kilo 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 chicken thighs in a bowl, container, or plastic bag
- In another bowl, mix 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, 2 teaspoon of 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 on its own. Then flip over to cook the other side. You may have to cook the chicken in batches depending on your cast iron. Cook the chicken until the bottom also releases from the pan.
- Put all the chicken thighs in cast iron, 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 are 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 steamed white rice.