Not Your Mother’s Chicken Adobo


I first heard of Romy Dorotan, a Filipino chef and restaurant owner in New York City, a couple of years ago when he appeared on the Martha Stewart show. This episode of Martha caused me to go through three stages of increasing shock:

Holy shit! There’s a Filipino on TV!
Holy shit! There’s a Filipino on TV, and he’s on the Martha Stewart Show!
Holy shit! There’s a Filipino on TV, and he’s on the Martha Stewart Show, and he’s cooking Chicken Adobo!

Strange, that.

After getting over my initial disbelief that Chicken Adobo was being prepared on national television by an actual Filipino, I remember thinking “I am definitely going to try and make that recipe.” Hmmm, so much for watershed moments — quite a bit of time passed before I was even reminded about that Chicken Adobo recipe.

In fact, it was this post by the Amateur Gourmet that did the reminding.  The AG gave a glowing review of Dorotan’s restaurant, Cendrillon, and proclaimed the Chicken Adobo at Cendrillon his “#1 favorite chicken dish for 2005.”  After reading that post, I remember thinking “I am definitely taking The Wife to Cendrillon on our upcoming trip to New York.”  So much for to-do lists — we did go to New York, and Cendrillon was on our itinerary, it just never got crossed off.

So when Dorotan, and his wife Amy Besa, released their first cookbook on Filipino cuisine entitled “Memories of Philippine Kitchens,” I had to buy it. And buy it I did a couple of months ago.  But would I ever cook from it?

“Memories of Philippine Kitchens” is an awesome cookbook, not just for Filipinos, but for anyone looking to expand their cooking repertoire.  It goes into some pretty good detail about the history and culture of Filipino dishes, recounts the stories of Filipino cooks, and features recipes for classic Filipino dishes as well as some newer dishes that are made at Cendrillon.  And of course, it contains the same Chicken Adobo recipe that was featured on Martha Stewart and the Amateur Gourmet.  I couldn’t pass this dish up for the third time in my life could I?

The Chicken Adobo recipe in “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” is pretty much the same as the recipe posted here.  There’s even a link on that page to watch the video of Dorotan on Martha Stewart.  It’s a pretty standard adobo recipe: marinate the chicken in a vinegar/soy mixture and then braise.  One difference between the TV version and the book version that I noticed is that the TV version calls for a quick broil of the chicken to crisp it up after the braise; the book doesn’t mention this step.  I followed the recipe from the book, and didn’t broil the chicken because my mother doesn’t do that for her adobo, so I figured it would be fine without the broil.

Something else my mother doesn’t do for her adobo is add coconut milk to the marinade, an ingredient Besa and Dorotan include in their adobo recipe.  As I learned from “Memories of Philippine Kitchens,” coconut milk is an ingredient indicative to the Bicol region of the Philippines. My parents are from the Ilocos region, where surliness and ill-humor are the ingredients of choice (actually, those are preferred ingredients of only my father, I shouldn’t make blanket statements like that, my bad).  Anyways, I used canned coconut milk and looked forward to that sweet addition to the dish.

Problem was, I didn’t exactly enjoy this Chicken Adobo, although my wife loved it.  For me, it was a bit too tart, too tangy, or very vinegary, which was surprising considering it had a good amount of coconunt milk to cut through the vinegar. But it wasn’t what I was used to. It wasn’t the Chicken Adobo I grew up with.  And that’s the tough thing about any kind of “homecooking” — nothing is ever going to be as good as what you grew up with.  So I’m gonna see about getting some Adobo kung fu from my mother one of these days.

And I’m not giving up on Besa and Dorotan’s recipe either.  I could probably find a better quality coconut milk, and I think the broiling of the chicken would be good too. I’m sure I probably screwed up something along the line in this recipe, but perhaps there is more surliness and ill-humor flowing in my veins than I’d like to admit.

  • Karen March 6, 2007, 12:55 pm

    [My parents are from the Ilocos region, where surliness and ill-humor are the ingredients of choice (actually, those are preferred ingredients of only my father, I shouldn’t make blanket statements like that, my bad).]
    You are bad! Very bad! Hahaha! My goodness, what an entertaining blog. I can’t wait to read more from you (and am awaiting a detailed ‘About’ page :)).
    Coconut milk is indicative not only of the Bicol region’s cuisine but also of the Tagalog’s, especially the south. Some Visayan recipes would call for it too.
    From Pampanga going up, coconut milk in savoury dishes is not used, with an exception or two.

  • Burnt Lumpia March 6, 2007, 8:43 pm

    Thanks Karen. I’m glad you enjoy what I have so far. I’ve been a lurker, and a fan, of your blog for quite some time.

  • Hurstalicious March 9, 2007, 12:21 pm

    I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. You are a fab. food writer and I cannot wait to get to NY and try this dish in the restaurant you mentioned.

  • Claudell March 19, 2007, 8:14 pm

    My dear brother…As I was driving home from work tonight, my stomach had pangs of hunger for some good ‘ol home cooking from our native land. Knowing that I can’t cook worth a lick of Filipino food, I decided to call our beloved grandmother to see what she was having for dinner. I thought at least maybe I could have some Filipino food in-vivo through the phone. In any case, the dinner she had prepared reminded me of this post of yours. I can’t pronounce or spell what she had made, but from what I gathered, the ingredients included dried taro leaves, ginger, coconut milk, and pork. Grandmother said this was a recipe from the “Bicol region.” Maybe you should hit her up and investigate this recipe to add to your repertoire of good eats.

  • lori March 23, 2007, 7:15 pm

    I’m a Filipino through and through and I even live in the Philippines, but I don’t know how to cook adobo. There are as many versions of it as there are Pinoys, which is about 85 million. Of course the adobo we make will never be as good as the one we grew up with. Nostalgia is the best cook, after all. But keep on trying until you find a version you can cook that you’re happy with.

  • joe April 6, 2007, 10:54 am

    coconut milk in adobo sacriligous imo
    it should only have water or chicken stockvinegar, soysauce, garlic, onions, salt and pepper
    thats it…
    anything else is crap…

  • Burnt Lumpia April 6, 2007, 9:41 pm

    Thanks for your comment joe. While I thought the use of coconut milk was strange, I don’t think it was crap. The Philippines is a big place, and there is more than one way to cook adobo.

  • joe April 10, 2007, 3:18 pm

    dunno i liek my adobo old skool..
    i dont even liek it when they mix chicken and pork adobo.. either chicken or pork i prefer to use pork butt… my fam likes chicken… but im the one cooking so pork it is..

  • Beth Loggins September 6, 2007, 6:07 pm

    Claudell… that dish your grandma was making is laing. With respect to coconut milk in adobo, yes that is sometimes done in the Bicol region. The thing though with using gata (ie. coconut milk) is that it is best to use some freshly extracted from real buko. The taste is way different and more refined if it is fresh. My dad is from Bicol, and oftentimes he complains that the gata that are sold in cans just isn’t good enough.

  • Leslie March 3, 2008, 2:15 pm

    I got the book as well and tried the chicken adobo recipe. I was so disappointed because it was soooo vinegary. With adobo’s I’ve made before I used half vinegar and half soy sauce. I was very suprised about the ratio in the book but thought that the coconut milk might cut the acidity. Anyway, the book is great at presenting the regions and its food but I’m not sure if I wanna try another recipe.
    I love you blog! :)

  • inuyaki April 1, 2008, 1:14 am

    I just wrote about the Cendrillon recipe on my blog, and I like the way it turned out. I was worried about the coconut milk overpowering the dish, but it was a nice background flavor. Broiling the skin was a nice touch and I think I’ll end up doing that no matter what kind of adobo I make. I also cooked down the sauce so it was like gravy and I loved how it clinged to the broiled skin.
    Anyway, I’ve just started exploring your blog and there’s a lot of great stuff here. Can’t wait to read more.

  • Voltaire Gungab April 9, 2008, 11:17 am

    Just for everyone’s info, there is a collection of adobo recipes in a book called “The Adobo Cookbook” that I picked up last time I was in Manila. To my surprise, there are regional adobo varieties like “Adobong Puti” (no soy sauce, but using salt instead), “Adobong Pula” (with paprika or pimenton), and “Adobong Dilaw” (with fresh turmeric, called luyang dilaw in Tagalog). Some adobos call for boiling down the gravy so only the fat remains (my great aunt cooked it this way). Some cooks marinate the meat overnight, and some fry the meat after it’s simmered in the vinegar mixture. Adobo with coconut milk is popular in southern Tagalog and Bicol areas. Some Bicolanos add a whole chili pepper (not sliced) for a subtle spicy kick. So really, the adobo you ate at home is not the only way adobo is, or should be, cooked. Keep an open mind, don’t be so critical, and enjoy other versions while appreciating the Filipinos’ culinary creativity.

  • Burnt Lumpia April 9, 2008, 11:43 am

    Hello Voltaire, thanks for stopping by my blog. I am very well aware that there are many ways to cook adobo, I was merely stating that this particular version was not something I was used to. I don’t think I was being critical at all, and based on the other posts within this blog, I would like to think that I have a very open mind. In fact, I strive to promote Filipino culinary creativity. Thanks.

  • Voltaire Gungab April 9, 2008, 3:25 pm

    Sorry…my post wasn’t directed at you in particular. I was reacting to the other comments that were made. Just wanted to caution people in general not to be so narrow-minded when it comes to Filipino food. Manila chefs are now serving imaginative dishes using Filipino ingredients, much like what you’re doing. So our cuisine is constantly evolving, and while we’ll always savor the traditional dishes, we should also welcome the innovations (panna cotta made w/ carabao’s milk, deep-fried kesong puti with guava sauce, sinigang made with corned beef brisket, just to name a few I sampled in Manila). So many possibilities!
    I think you’re very open-minded and I thoroughly enjoy your adventurous forays, especially the ube gnocchi. I’ve made ube vichysoisse and ube panna cotta, but will have to try the gnocchi! Thanks.

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js August 3, 2008, 10:21 am

    I have to search your blog for your favourite adobo recipe.

  • jules February 15, 2009, 12:20 pm

    My boyfriend made your adobo and lumpia last night for my birthday party – he marinated the (organic) chicken adobo 24 hours, then braised it. It was fabulous, but the real delight was the leftovers for breakfast this morning and the discovery that the action of marinating with vinegar and braising pulled the gelatin out of the chicken bones making the sauce super nourishing – giving it the “Weston A. Price” stamp of approval!

  • Wendy March 2, 2010, 12:36 pm

    Love this blog. Love chicken adobo. Love Weston A. Price!!!

  • jey May 26, 2010, 6:36 am

    he Chicken Adobo recipe in “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” is pretty much the same as the recipe posted here. There’s even a link on that page to watch the video of Dorotan on Martha Stewart.

  • cabernet reserve June 21, 2010, 6:49 pm

    I’m enjoying your blog. You are a fabulous. the best food writer and I can not wait to visit New York and try this dish at the restaurant that you mentioned.

  • Mika December 1, 2012, 6:57 am

    Yep! not my mother’s chicken adobo either.I agree on what you wrote that when it comes to homecooking,nothing is as good as the ones you grew up with. I tried cooking chicken adobo and added some coconut milk as well but didn’t like how the taste turned out. I like your blog! It’s one of the best food blog I’ve come across!

  • Stan V. December 20, 2013, 11:04 am

    I saw R. Dorotan’s recipe on MS’s website and am wondering if the 1-1/2 cup of vinegar is a typo. I only use 2/3 of a cup and then add a couple of cups of water to cook the chicken. I add thickener to the juice to make a gravy that sticks to the chicken and the rice. Different, but a smooth vinegar taste ends up making me eat way too much rice.


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