According to my handy-dandy copy of Memories of Philippine Kitchens, the word "Adobo" refers to a condiment of oil, garlic, and marjoram in Spain. For Mexicans (Oaxacans to be more specific), "Adobo" is a marinade of guajillo chiles, garlic, cider vinegar, thyme, bay leaves, avocado leaves, oregano, black peppercorns, and cinnamon. For us Filipinos, "Adobo" is not a condiment or marinade, but instead the word refers to a method of cooking anything in a mixture of vinegar, salt (and/or soy), garlic, black peppercorns, and bay leaf.
Filipino Adobo, like many many other things in our culture, has a Spanish name. When the Spanish rolled into the Philippines a few hundred years ago, they saw our adobo, thought it looked a little bit like their adobo, and ultimately imposed their name onto our dish (among other things). That’s hegemony for you. In addition, the use of soy sauce is of Chinese influence–the oldest forms of adobo were made with salt and no soy. And on top of that, the use of Heinz apple cider vinegar (a relatively new staple in many adobo recipes) can be attributed to the arrival of Americans to the Philippines at the start of the 20th century–although Filipinos have always had vinegars of their own.
In spite of its Spanish name, Chinese soy sauce, and American vinegar, a dish of adobo is inherently Filipino: we’ve been stewing meats in salt and vinegar throughout the ages.
Although Filipinos have probably been making adobo for millennium, there isn’t really a standard recipe written in stone–every household has their own version. For me, I’m most used to chicken, pork, and squid adobos, but there can also be adobos with vegetables and other types of meat.
I’ve attempted an adobo recipe from Memories of Philippine Kitchens before, and I wasn’t too pleased with the results. That chicken adobo wasn’t terrible, I just wasn’t used to coconut milk in my adobo. With that said, I decided to give the "Memories" cookbook another try with another one of its adobo recipes: Baby-Back Ribs Adobo.
This recipe had no coconut milk but had plenty of vinegar, garlic, black pepper, and the unusual addition of jalepeno peppers. This version of adobo was tangy, piquant, and just a bit spicy. It was perfect.
For this adobo, you need to get yourself a side of pork baby-back ribs:
Once you find yourself a sizeable rack, sprinkle the ribs with some salt and then portion them out by cutting between the bones. You could cut them into 2-rib portions, but I chose to cut them into individual portions because I find that easier to eat.
Then, take a palmful of black peppercorns and a few cloves of garlic and mash them together in a mortar and pestle until you obtain a coarse paste. If you’re like me, and have no mortar and pestle, use your spare coffee grinder to pulverize the peppercorns, use a knife to finely chop the garlic, and then mix the ground pepper and chopped garlic in a bowl and mash with a spoon.
I don’t see nothin’ wroooong, with a lil’ bump ‘n griiiiiind!
If you don’t have a spare coffee grinder, just dole out a couple teaspoons of pepper from your pepper mill. The coffee grinder just makes things quicker.
Once you’ve got a nice peppery paste of garlic, slather the mixture onto your ribs. Don’t waste any of the paste on the underside of the ribs, use it all on the meat.
After the garlic and pepper rub, pour a mixture of vinegar, a touch of soy, and a chopped jalapeno over the ribs and let marinate for a few hours, being sure to turn the ribs over halfway through.
When the ribs are done marinating, put the ribs and the marinade into a large pan and simmer for an hour or so, until the meat begins to fall off of the bones.
Baby-Back Ribs Adobo
Adapted from Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s "Memories of Philippine Kitchens"
2 pounds baby-back ribs, cut into individual portions
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black peppercorns
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 bay leaves
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
Season the ribs liberally with kosher salt, then place the ribs in single layer in a large baking dish.
Combine the peppercorns and garlic in a small bowl and mash together with a spoon to form a coarse paste. Rub the pepper and garlic paste onto the ribs.
In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, soy, bay leaves and jalapeno. Pour this mixture over the ribs, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, turning ribs halfway through marinating.
When ribs are ready to cook, transfer the ribs and marinade to a large heavy pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until meat is tender, about 1 hour.
Serve over steamed rice.