Baby-Back Ribs Adobo

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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:

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Nice rack.

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.

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I don’t see nothin’ wroooong, with a lil’ bump ‘n griiiiiind!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Manggy January 24, 2008, 9:28 pm

    Yum. I’m glad this one worked out for you. My favorite version has tomatoes and Thai chilies cooked into oblivion. Hott!!
    “I don’t see nothin’ wroooong, with a lil’ bump ‘n griiiiiind!” – Marvin, your age is showing, heh heh. Can you believe it?
    The ribs look a tad small to me. Either that, or you have ginormous hands 😀

    Reply
  • Tablebread January 24, 2008, 9:43 pm

    I’ve decided, it’s final, I’m in love :) My wife’s chicken adobo is amazing (she picked up the recipe growing up in Hawaii) but I think I will surprise her with this one night :) I shocked her with near perfect L&L Katsu tonight, might as well go for the gold!

    Reply
  • Mila January 24, 2008, 10:50 pm

    There’s a great little book called 101 adobo or something with adobo and 101 types of it. All variations of adobo, white, with soy, no soy, with coconut milk, etc. Would you like a copy sent to you? Full of inspiring ideas for cooking adobo.

    Reply
  • Wandering Chopsticks January 25, 2008, 12:35 am

    The adobo reminds me of VNese kho (braised) recipes. I don’t remember if I’ve said that before? I was completely unfamiliar with Filipino food (beyond lumpia and pancit and halo halo) before I found your blog. But there’s so many similarities to VNese food.
    BTW, speaking of Filipino pride, did you know the new lead singer of Journey, Arnel Pineda, is Filipino? He’s awesome! And no joke! they discovered him on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HjcCzgCCX0

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  • Wandering Chopsticks January 25, 2008, 12:38 am

    PS Here’s the info on how he got discovered. It’s also on Journey’s website.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nnNji6s3ck&feature=related

    Reply
  • toni January 25, 2008, 3:48 am

    Daaaaaamn that looks good. I am so craving adobo now.

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  • Jikuu January 25, 2008, 6:42 am

    My husband’s been experimenting adobo for a week now. It’s been coming out black. >.< I used your earlier (second) chicken adobo recipe and that was spot on. I think you owe me a pan de sal recipe, as the soy and vinegar caused me to regress and hunt for it at the Filipino stores near me (to no result, but I did find some good pinakbet at a turo-turo).

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  • dhanggit January 25, 2008, 7:12 am

    adobo is one of my favorite filipino dish..the recipe is simple..everybody has their own version of cooking it..the essential is in the right combination of saltiness and acidity..i love your spicy version on baby back ribs..i should try this one time :-)
    ps, i just remember that i have a friend who cooks adobo with patis and calamansi..and her version too is good :-)

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  • TeddyKim January 25, 2008, 8:22 am

    Hey, did you get the “itis” after eating all those ribs;P

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  • oggi January 25, 2008, 1:42 pm

    I haven’t tried any of the adobos in ‘Memories’, I’ll make this version soon.
    As I’m typing, a large pot of white chicken adobo is stewing in my kitchen. I will flake the meat and will deep fry them to fill tiny pitas.

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  • Katrina January 26, 2008, 12:03 am

    Another thing you should try (if you haven’t already) is twice-cooked adobo. I actually prefer this to regular adobo (love crispy fried food). One of my favorite dishes is adobo flakes, but I’ve also tried a delicious fried spare ribs adobo in a restaurant. It was served with adobo rice, and adobo sauce on the side. SARAP!!!

    Reply
  • desie the maybahay January 28, 2008, 3:09 am

    can’t go wrong with adobo. this looks scrumptious marvin.

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  • Julie January 28, 2008, 8:47 am

    Ah, yum! Good to know that recipe in the book is good!
    If you were my mom, you’d get a meat cleaver or machete or something and whack those ribs into pieces small enough to pop into your mouth so you could suck the meat right off the bone and still keep your hands free. Don’t you know you need your hands to scoop your rice around??? ;D

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  • White On Rice Couple January 28, 2008, 12:33 pm

    Love your header picture. We’ve had many burnt springrolls in our days. :)

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  • Chad Rowdy January 28, 2008, 3:23 pm

    This looks interesting and perhaps I will try it. However I love my ribs smothered in BBQ sauce and all burnt up … like Kansas City style!

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  • Ruy January 28, 2008, 5:26 pm

    I sometimes cook adobo with just salt and loads of garlic. The end result is a dry type of semi-crisp adobo which has been fried in basically its own fat (and a little additional oil) after reducing the water I initially boiled it in. The garlis is toasted as well.
    I love it.=)

    Reply
  • sandy January 28, 2008, 8:23 pm

    ooh ooh ooh! I haven’t ever made adobo but this recipe looks easy enough that I might give it a try.

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  • veron January 29, 2008, 8:34 am

    I did go to Cendrillon last year to sample the chicken adobo . I was not impressed , it tasted like it was cooked on high heat and had the nasty chicken taste. But i’m glad that you liked the baby back ribs more – love ribs adobo!

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  • joey January 29, 2008, 8:37 am

    This is going straight into my adobo files! Thanks for passing the recipe along…it’s sounds incredible! :)

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  • Burnt Lumpia January 29, 2008, 9:29 am

    Hi Manggy. It’s a classic song, I don’t mind showing my age. And my hands are ginormous, but I also think the camera angle distorts things a bit, the ribs were actually a pretty good size.
    Hello Tablebread. It is a good recipe, I’m sure your wife would enjoy it. But Chicken Katsu is very impressive too.
    Hi Mila! You’re so very kind to offer me a copy. I’ll send you an email and we can figure out logistics.
    I was also completely in the dark about VNese food, until I found you WC:) And I did hear through the grapevine about Arnel Pineda, but I’ve never actually seen or heard him before. He is pretty awesome.
    Thanks Toni. Adobo cravings are easy to beat, as long as you know how to make adobo;)
    Black adobo Jikuu??? Is he burning it? I’m glad you liked my other chicken adobo recipe! I’m not much of a baker, but pan de sal is on my list of things to attempt.
    You’re right dhanggit, adobo is easy to make and once you have a basic recipe down, it’s very open to customizing to your own tastes.
    TK, I did get the “itis” and went right to sleep. But it did not cause any “mudbutt”.
    Hi oggi. This adobo is definitely worth trying. And I hope you post about your adobo filled pitas.
    Katrina, I haven’t tried twice-cooked adobo, but I have been meaning to make fried adobo flakes whenever I have leftover chicken adobo.
    Thanks Desie! Adobo is hard to screw up.
    Hi Julie! Eating with my hands? I’m still trying to master the fork and spoon;)
    Thanks for stopping by White on Rice! Springrolls burn the second you look away!
    Hello chad. These ribs are nothing like Kansas City style, but they are as good.
    Mmmm, crispy adobo. That sounds awesome Ruy!
    Hi Sandy. Thanks for visiting. There’s very little work involved in this recipe. Just marinate and then simmer. It’s worth a try if you’ve never had adobo.
    Hi Veron. I always wondered about Cendrillon and if I were crazy for not liking their chicken adobo. I’m glad you are of the same opinion as me:)
    Yes, joey! Definitely put this into your regular adobo rotation.

    Reply
  • JMom January 29, 2008, 10:31 am

    We just had pork ribs adobo! I love this dish! I swear I could eat it everyday :)

    Reply
  • sha January 29, 2008, 2:30 pm

    am flying back to the USA this week and our chef is away for a break looks like am going to be the cook for the crew… i keep thinking of doing adobo for them since they all love baby back ribs… and they have an affair for anything asian…never added JAPALENO on mine.. so time to do some experiment..

    Reply
  • elmomonster January 31, 2008, 5:44 am

    You are quite the kitchen tinkerer. I wouldn’t have thought to adobo-ize baby backs. Genius!

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  • Burnt Lumpia February 1, 2008, 10:34 am

    You and me both, JMom!
    Hi sha! The jalapeno gives a nice kick!
    Elmo, baby-back ribs are actually quite common. So I’m not a genius at all;)

    Reply
  • Madley March 17, 2008, 5:20 pm

    You’ve probably seen it — this is my friend Travis’ infamous AMERICAN ADOBO instructional video… enjoy! :)
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=H_UxyQ7cb3I

    Reply
  • Joss April 2, 2008, 4:50 pm

    I was at a book signing for Memories of Philippine Kitchens in San Francisco where Romy Dorotan himself cooked the adobo. Not having read the book, there was a quite shudder in the audience when the coconut milk was added. The lady next to me said, “Ay nako…it’s not adobo anymore. It’s curry.”
    I did not enjoy the adobo.
    Great posts by the way. Love the humor, the references to 90s hip hop culture and of course, the food!

    Reply
  • Beth June 21, 2008, 9:17 pm

    hehe, the coconut milk in adobo version sure isn’t preferred by many. But it’s one of the versions that does exist in the Philippines so it’s cool. They did this show on a Philippine TV network once and it had a segment on adobo. The original adobo didn’t have any soy sauce. I’m pretty sure it was mentioned in Memories, but the key to making great adobo (and I assume the real traditional way) is to marinate (as you have done) and cook low and slow so that the fat renders out of the meat and the meat cooks in its own fat. My personal preference for adobo is made with pork belly. Super yummy but oh so cholesterol-y!

    Reply
  • Beth June 21, 2008, 9:18 pm

    hehe, the coconut milk in adobo version sure isn’t preferred by many. But it’s one of the versions that does exist in the Philippines so it’s cool. They did this show on a Philippine TV network once and it had a segment on adobo. The original adobo didn’t have any soy sauce. I’m pretty sure it was mentioned in Memories, but the key to making great adobo (and I assume the real traditional way) is to marinate (as you have done) and cook low and slow so that the fat renders out of the meat and the meat cooks in its own fat. My personal preference for adobo is made with pork belly. Super yummy but oh so cholesterol-y!

    Reply
  • Chris June 23, 2008, 9:42 pm

    I did this on the weekend…LOVED it!

    Reply
  • Heather September 16, 2009, 8:51 am

    Can someone tell me if you can use the Filipino Cane Vinegar with this recipe instead of the cider vinegar? I have both at home, but just curious. I want to try this on the weekend. I also made your chicken adobo from the sunset magazine last night. I am letting it sit until later this afternoon as is often recommended and I am anxious to try! Love your site!

    Reply
  • Eprocurement software October 26, 2009, 9:50 pm

    Oh wow! This is good stuff! I will surprise my family with this recipe tonight. And I’m very sure I’ll be seeing smiling faces, which I like very much. Thanks for this post!

    Reply
  • Bren April 6, 2014, 11:27 pm

    Dude this looks epic. I’ve never seen this served in restaurants. Is it a recipe you came up with yourself? Wonder if they’d work on the BBQ…

    Reply

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