“The real adobo never used ‘toyo’ (soy sauce). And I think it is not just the Visayan version,” was the quick reply from my cousin Manay Lyn. Just like the TV game show, I have my own lifelines when it comes to asking for cooking advice or recipes. Most of my resources are from the family – my circle of cousins are a big help. And unlike the television show, I have a free pass to any cooking question. Thank goodness for the internet and instant forms of communications. I can now text questions like this “Is it true the Visayan adobo does not use soy sauce, thus yours is the ‘White Adobo’?”
The most distinct thing was that the adobo she cooked was white, there was no trace of soy sauce and yet it was divine. A few years ago, at my cousin’s beach house here in the east coast, several of us were gathered together for a weekend reunion. My cousin, Manay Lyn Besa Gamboa (‘Manay’ is used to address an older female relative in the Philippines, as a form of respect) was visiting the States from Silay City, Philippines. While we sat around the family dinner table, pouring wine, telling stories, and eating, Manay Lyn occasionally got up from her seat and went to the kitchen stove to the simmering pot. She gave the White Adobo a few stirs, sniffed at the aromatic garlicky-vinegar vapors floating from the pot and exclaimed “Malapit na itong maluto!” (This won’t take long, it will cook soon).
I tried cooking this type of white adobo for the family. It was a chicken stew pure and simple. It needed a slow simmer for the chicken pieces to get tender, and the ‘adobo’ flavors to set. Adobo has been hailed as the Philippines’ national dish. I’ve cooked and posted different versions of it here on the blog. What makes this one different? The absence of soy sauce is what makes it unique, but it doesn’t make it any less irresistible. White adobo is just as magnificent in its simplicity and the hard to resist garlic-vinegar flavors. Once cooked till it nearly falls off the bone, the chicken stew has a radiant glistening sheen and very refreshing light flavors. The enormous amount of garlic cooked in the vinegar broth makes this adobo utterly amazing on boiled steam rice.
For years, my sons were accustomed to seeing regular Filipino Adobo cooked with soy sauce. When I served this White Adobo on the table, I told them why it was so :
“Adobo, which foreigners consider the quintessential Philippine dish, since it is found in all homes, Filipino restaurants at home and abroad, and even in hotels as the token Philippine dish, is based on sour-stewing too : in vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorn. Soy sauce is a latter-day addition.”(From “Tikim” by Doreen G. Fernandez)
My cousin Lyn was right. White adobo was not just unique to the Visayas, the southern provinces of the Philippines. I found recipes of white adobo, too from the Pampanga region, which is north of Manila (the country’s capital). Looking through my stack of cookbooks, I found a Kapampangan version, from the Pampanga culinary queen of heirloom cooking, Atching Lillian Borromeo, whom I met last year. In her cookbook’s recipe, there was absolutely no trace of soy sauce (Filipinos call it ‘toyo’). Best of all, the recipe was simple, easy and just cooked by itself once let alone to simmer.
Sometimes, the simplest recipes that have been passed on for generations are arguably the best!
The classic White Adobo or Adobong Puti has been around as a classic Filipino recipe for possibly centuries. Cookbooks and Filipino historians cite the addition of soy sauce was only recent to the recipe. Here is a simple, easy version of this well-loved chicken stew cooked in a garlicky-vinegar broth slathered with black peppercorns. All you need to do is boil and simmer till the meat is soft and tender. The powerful aroma of garlic and vinegar combined after cooking low and slow with the chicken is enough to bring everyone to the table quickly. And if there are any leftovers, this chicken stew tastes even better days after. This recipe was adapted from “Atching Lillian’s Heirloom Recipes” cookbook by Lillian Borromeo. This recipe serves 4.
- chicken - 3 pounds, cut in serving pieces
- white cane vinegar or Filipino Sukang Maasim - 1 cup (Filipino brands, from Asian markets)
- water - 4 to 5 cups enough to cover chicken in pot
- garlic - 2 Tablespoons, chopped
- bay leaves - 3 pieces
- black whole peppercorns - 1 teaspoon, freshly crushed
- salt - 1 teaspoon
- boiled jasmine white rice - for serving
- In a large, deep pot, over medium high heat, combine all the ingredients together – the chicken, vinegar, water, salt, garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorns. Do not stir yet.
- Allow the mixture to come to a full boil, after about 10 minutes. Lower heat to a slow simmer. Stir just a little, just enough to let the ingredients blend well.
- Simmer over medium low heat till chicken is tender, for about 2 hours for this amount. (Note: I used my slow cooker to cook this. Setting was on High, and the chicken adobo cooked in 6 hours in the crock pot).
- Using a large cooking spoon, slowly scoop some of the sauce that has slightly thickened and pour some over the simmering chicken. The sauce would have reduced and by the time the chicken adobo is cooked, very little liquid remains in the pot. Serve hot with boiled jasmine white rice.