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Chicken Adobo

A QUICK BRAISE WITH BOLD FLAVORS

Most braised chicken recipes rely on many ingredients and that means a lot of prep—mincing garlic, chopping onions, and slicing a myriad of vegetables. In chicken adobo, the national dish of the Philippines, the approach is quite different. The ingredient list is very short and nothing—other than the chicken—requires prep time. This formula works because the key ingredients that go into this braise—soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, and black pepper—are each so potent. The end result is a pantry-ready braise with bold, tangy flavors.

Adobo is reminiscent of teriyaki but instead of balancing the strong flavors of soy and garlic with a sweet element, adobo relies on something acidic. But a dish with a quarter cup or more of soy sauce and twice as much vinegar can be too pungent. Some recipes cut the braising liquid with water. While this approach tames the excessive tartness, it also makes the dish dull. A better approach is to add another Filipino staple—coconut milk. Just as oil balances the vinegar in a French vinaigrette, the fat in the coconut milk tempers (but doesn’t dull) the acidity and salt in this sauce.

Another French technique—starting the chicken in a cold pan to render fat—ensures that the skin on the chicken thighs is well browned and rendered. You can’t discard the skin (standard practice in most braises) because the chicken should be lacquered with sauce and the skin is key in helping the sauce to adhere. This cold pan method, which is typically used with fatty duck breasts, ensures that the skin will have some crackle, even after braising. Adobo might just be the simplest and best thing you can do with chicken.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS

Bone-In for Braising

Choose bone-in chicken thighs for adobo. They have more fat and collagen than chicken breasts, making them particularly well-suited to braising. They also have more meat on the bone than drumsticks. Keep the skin on so that you can crisp it into a craggy crust—it will give the sauce something to grab onto. But to prevent a greasy dish, trim the thighs and remove any knobby pockets of fat, which are difficult to render adequately.

Marinate in Soy Sauce

Start the chicken in a soy sauce-only marinade to help tenderize and flavor the meat—it takes just 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. The salt in the soy sauce will penetrate the meat without toughening it up or making it mushy.

Balance the Marinade

To even out the sharp saltiness of the traditional vinegar and soy sauce braising liquid, add a can of coconut milk, which is often done in a regional variation of adobo. The thick rich milk will mellow the harsh flavors while still allowing plenty of tanginess—and it will add welcome body to the sauce.

Start with a Cold Pan

To render the gummy fat layer in the chicken skin and crisp its surface, we take a cue from the French technique for preparing duck (a notoriously fatty bird). Start the meat in a room-temperature nonstick skillet and then turn up the heat. As the pan heats, the fat will have time to melt before the exterior burns. Be sure to remove the excess fat from the skillet to prevent the braise from being greasy.

Flip ’Em

Start the browned chicken pieces skin side down in the braising liquid and then to preserve as much crispness as possible in the finished dish, turn the chicken pieces skin side up—this will give the skin a chance to dry out a little before serving.

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The chicken braises in a mix of supercharged ingredients, including coconut milk and garlic.

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Filipino Chicken Adobo

SERVES 4

RECIPE DETAILS

Timeline

  • 5 minutes to trim fat from chicken
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour to marinate chicken in soy sauce
  • 10 minutes to brown chicken (whisk coconut milk and other ingredients into reserved soy sauce)
  • 2 minutes to transfer chicken to plate and discard fat from skillet
  • 35 minutes to cook chicken in coconut mixture
  • 5 minutes to reduce sauce (set chicken aside on platter)

Essential Tools

  • 12-inch nonstick skillet (The nonstick coating reduces the risk of sticking.)
  • Tongs for turning chicken thighs

Substitutions & Variations

  • Light coconut milk can be substituted for the regular coconut milk.

Serve this dish over rice.

  • 8 (5- to 7-ounce) bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed
  • ⅓ cup soy sauce
  • 1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
  • ¾ cup cider vinegar
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 1 scallion, sliced thin
  1. Toss chicken with soy sauce in large bowl. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.
  2. Remove chicken from soy sauce, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Transfer chicken, skin side down, to 12-inch nonstick skillet; set aside soy sauce.
  3. Place skillet over medium-high heat and cook until chicken skin is browned, 7 to 10 minutes. While chicken is browning, whisk coconut milk, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, and pepper into soy sauce.
  4. Transfer chicken to plate and discard fat in skillet. Return chicken to skillet skin side down, add coconut milk mixture, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Flip chicken skin side up and continue to cook, uncovered, until chicken registers 175 degrees, about 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil.
  5. Remove bay leaves and skim any fat off surface of sauce. Return skillet to medium-high heat and cook until sauce is thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Pour sauce over chicken, sprinkle with scallion, and serve.

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