Why Hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where one man scorches his soul and sphincter for sustenance and slapstick. I’m your heart-burnt-and-broken hellion, Jon O’Guin. Today’s post is…fraught, in many ways, on a conceptual level. I’m somewhat at a loss on how to approach the whole thing. Not the recipe, of course. That’s quite easy, and you can skip my hard work and go directly to the pay-off here. No, I’m talking about how you TALK about the things I need to cover to convey this. Hell, I’m not even doing a good job of explaining how hard it is to explain. Well, let’s stop stalling and learn by doing, as we tackle the linguistic and cultural knot that is Chicken Adobo.
The fact that Title Jon is struggling to find puns is another bad sign. Look, let’s get the basics out of the way, alright? Set up a foundation, so we can see why this house is such a fucking mess to build.
The first thing you need to know is that there are two completely different KINDS of Adobo, and that’s because it sucked to NOT be a colonizing nation any time between 1492 and…let’s say 1977. Adobo is a Spanish word, from adobar, meaning “to marinate”, and refers to, as basic pattern recognition should suggest, “a marinade”. Well, “a marinade, sauce, or seasoning”. Specifically, the word was invented in Spain sometime after the discovery of the New World. (and subsequent…’firm exploration and aggressive negotiations’ with the indigenous peoples there)
“Aggressive negotiations”, if you’ve forgotten your Jedi wisdom, is when you let your cannon do the negotiating.
Spain needed a way to preserve foods in their New World holdings, and while traveling in the more tropical climates. Since these areas naturally ruled out the use of, you know, COLD in the preservation process, Spain turned to one of their newly discovered resources: capsicum annuum, the mother species for all “normal” chile peppers, as we talked about back in our post about Chili/Chile Powders. Well, one thing I didn’t mention in that parade of self-inflicted suffering is that paprika, in addition to tasting nice and being colorful, has anti-bacterial qualities. Spain figured this out (somehow, since this actually occurred before the germ theory of medication, so maybe just by dumb fucking luck) and started making “adobos”, mixtures of salt, paprika, vinegar, and spices. Which, honestly, is a pretty thorough system: Salt and Vinegar are the original food preservatives, so it makes sense to go “alright, we’ll use these two, this powder that makes it less likely to make me sick, and a little extra for flavor.”
Spain worked this recipe out, and then ended up in the Philippines. There they found that the natives ALSO stewed meats in a mixture of spices, salt, and vinegar to help their foods last longer in the tropical heat and said “Holy shit, these guys know how to do Adobo too!”
Note that the adobo sauce that chipotles are stored in, pictured here, is TECHNICALLY a third kind of adobo, but it’s closer to the Spanish version, and named the same way because that’s what you do when you colonize new continents: you rename everything to the words YOU know.
Though (and this is a fun fact/good example for why you shouldn’t use Wikipedia as a primary source for shit, assuming that’s still a relevant concern in your life) apparently one of the “earliest references” to adobos in Spain is from a book written in 1850. Which is 237 years AFTER a Spanish missionary wrote down the native word for a dish and called it “the adobo of the natives”, so you gotta love notes like that.
So, that’s the foundation, but what’s the thorny problem that I find unable to grasp because I didn’t bring proper gloves? Well…
And Just Who, Exactly, are You?
I live, as I have alluded to and stated too many times to recount, in Washington state. And when the great locales of America are recounted, we’re not particularly high up the list. People talk about New York, and Los Angeles, they talk about the beaches of Florida, and the pre-eminently replicable mannerisms of Texas.
You know what just struck me? Despite being a huge stereotype of a Texan, he’s named YOSEMITE Sam, which is in WYOMING. And sure, I know plenty of cowboys were “PLACENAME Jones”, but I wonder why Yosemite specifically.
Which is not to say that I’m not proud of my state, or that we don’t have a lot to offer. Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, Starbucks, there’s a lot of interesting things to interact with in Washington.
And one of those things is our impressively high population of Filipino Americans. A fact that I’d always kind of known, but never really thought about. We’re the fifth highest in the country. There are more Filipinos in Washington than in New York. And somehow, despite that, I’ve learned almost nothing about them. I’ve been TAUGHT almost nothing about them. And that’s disconcerting to me.
Filipinos make up almost 1% of the entire US Population. There are more Filipinos in America then there are people in New Mexico. The Philippines has more people in it than Spain and Italy COMBINED.
I know a Spain vs Italy soccer(football) stadium turnout isn’t the best indicator, but it’s useful enough.
And despite those numbers, I know like, 5 things about them:
-They speak Tagalog
-They eat Lumpia, Lechon, and Adobo
-They’ve got a rather controversial President at the moment
-Their capital is Manila.
That’s only FOUR things, and one of them is technically wrong. (The official language of the Philippines is Filipino, which is a standardized form of Tagalog. Thus, while many Filipinos do speak Tagalog, not all of them do, and many who do use a slightly different form.) Even when I’m trying to point out how little I know, I KNOW LESS THAN THAT.
And if you don’t see the point in distinguishing between Forms of a language, I will remind you that Cockney Rhyming Slang is a form of English.
Again, I grew up with plenty of Filipino classmates. My family likes both Lumpia and Adobo. I have eaten their food, talked with their people, and somehow know next to nothing about them. And that feels weird to me.
And here’s an illustration for why it’s unsettling: I’ve spent no small amount of time on the site talking about my family’s love of Japanese food and elements of Japanese culture, a topic I plan to revisit in the next month or so. Sushi rolls are sold at basically every grocery store within 15 miles of my house, And there are no fewer than 90 sushi restaurants within the nearest 20 miles. And there are twice as many Filipinos in this area than Japanese Americans. Literally TWICE as many. IN that same radius, do you know how many Filipino restaurants there are around me? Less than 26. I say “less than”, because unless their menu changed drastically, the fucking PAPA JOHN’S and SUBWAY Google counted in the search results shouldn’t be there. Nor should the Italian restaurant that popped up. I was going to get mad that a Hawaiian place showed up, but they DO sell Lumpia and Adobo, so they get a pass. Especially with the whole “Pan-Asian” bullshit we make Asian restaurants deal with. (Though, it’s probably at least a LITTLE weird that I just referenced Hawaii, a US STATE, as “Asian”)
I mean, sure, this LOOKS Asian, but that’s a superficial statement.
So, it’s weird, because…there’s this sort of cultural divide. Between the “loud” nations and the “quiet” ones. Like, think right now, you have a sort of mental idea of what Japanese culture is, right? Same with German, Spanish, French. Your mental picture of Egypt is probably pretty old, but it exists. You think you know how China acts and how they eat. (You probably don’t, since China has quite a few regional cuisines, but you THINK you do.) But then, what do you know about Bangladesh? Niger? Indonesia? Because, fun fact: those three countries combined make up more of the human population of the Earth than the entirety of the European Union. There’s twice as many people in those three countries as there are in America. So why don’t we ever hear about them?
Normally, in a situation like this, I’d spend the time and unpack their food culture more thoroughly. But this is the first time I’ve ever been really SURPRISED by how little I knew, and how MUCH there was to know in a culture I was cooking from. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to delay that process until I get a better grasp on it. In the meanwhile, let’s cook this Spanish-named food of the Philippines, and presumably get yelled at for doing something wrong.
Things Go Awry
I’ve partly referenced the creation of this dish before, as the impetus for this recipe wasn’t the result of me being inspired by a magazine, TV show, or anything like that, but rather of my mother dropping 10 pounds of meat in my lap an hour before company arrived.
Now, this bundle of chicken thighs was dropped in front of me with little warning, and something of a lie: I’m sure this isn’t a unique experience, but my mother has a particular way of ‘making decisions’ about things like this, I THINK from years of ‘negotiating’ with my father.
The cue is, if she makes the SAME REFERENCE 3 or more times in under 10 minutes, then she’s made HER decision, you either need to agree or overrule it. And, as her son, it’s (not-at-all-surprisingly) difficult to override her call on something like this.
So when she brought the chicken home and said:
“I didn’t have any plan, I just thought we could make something like chicken adobo, or…”
Then a couple minutes later said “Alright, we need to figure out what we’re doing. I thought chicken adobo, but we don’t HAVE to…”
And then finished with “I don’t know, I didn’t have any set idea. I just thought chicken adobo would be-“
I had already started Googling chicken adobo recipes, because hers had recently gone missing. She had put it on the fridge, she thought, but it wasn’t there now. The recipe was eventually found, on the fridge, a truly masterful hiding place.
DAMN your cunning!
(We, uh, thought we were looking for a bigger piece of paper.)
Since we were unable to locate a piece of paper literally right in front of our noses, we relied on a recipe I picked up online at Food52.com. It’s a rather simple affair, though there is a bit of back-and-forth to start. It consists of three major components: the chicken itself, a simple rub, and a marinade/cooking sauce.
The chicken was 4 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, though we personally removed the skin ourselves, as we intended to fry or bake it later. (In fact, we DID, using the recipe in our Chicken Skin Buns…but forgetting the recipe is for 40 minutes, not an hour, and burning the batch.)
I didn’t take any pictures of the process, but I assure you, it was roughly as visually unappealing as chicken skin always is.
The chicken gets covered in a mixture of salt, pepper and garlic powder, and briefly browned in a large skillet. This is a one-pot meal, of a sort, so make sure you’ll have enough room to simmer all your chicken in the pan later. Once both sides are browned and your chicken is looking quite pleasant on its own, you then add the liquid to the pan.
The liquid, or adobo is a potent mixture indeed. White Vinegar for acidity, Soy sauce for salt, and water to add moisture without overseasoning, with whole black peppercorns, bay leaves, and quite a few cloves of finely chopped garlic.
You can see the garlic hiding behind the glass, trying not to get chopped.
Once the adobo is in the pan, the chicken goes back in with it, and the whole lot is simmer for nearly an hour until the chicken is falling off the bone.
A process you can’t SEE here, but I assure you is happening.
While it’s quite picturesque like that, I have to confess that I’m not particularly fond of chicken thighs when they’re intact, so I personally shred my chicken with a fork, discarding any chunks of gristle or fat that don’t tear well. We also simmered the adobo for a little while after removing the chicken, to make a slightly thicker sauce to pour over the chicken, as well as some white rice we prepared. (hence why it’s ‘almost’ a one-pot meal: the chicken itself is all one pot, but then you need the rice.)
It LOOKS a little like a weird cross between barbecue pulled chicken and chicken teriyaki, but it’s a lot more savory since there’s no sugar.
And this recipe, while not precisely like my mother’s recipe, or others I have seen, is quite enjoyable, if somewhat basic: many households tweak their adobos, adding things like sugar for a touch of sweetness, diced peppers for spiciness, pineapple or potatoes for texture and flavor, and all sorts of other configurations. But this was very good as a simple, direct variation. Certainly not a catastrophe at all.
Normally this is where we’d plug the Patreon and social media, but I’ve actually heavily overbooked myself this weekend, so I’ve got to run. See you later.
THURSDAY: WE CONTINUE OUR FRAUGHT DISCUSSION ON CULTURES, RACISM, AND JON’S AMBIVALENCE AND CONFUSION WITH OUR FIRST CATASTROPHIC REVIEW OF THE YEAR.
MONDAY: ONE OF TWO DISHES, DEPENDING ON IF JON GETS ANY SHOPPING DONE THIS WEEK. WE’LL KNOW BY THURSDAY, HOPEFULLY.
Before I go, here's the
Serves 4 (can be doubled, if your pan is large enough)
2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs or drumsticks
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup white or apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tsps whole black peppercorns
3 dried bay leaves
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, chopped (optional)
Rinse chicken thighs and pat dry. In a large bowl, place chicken and sprinkle with salt, black pepper and garlic powder, turning to coat each piece thoroughly
In a Dutch oven, deep cast iron skillet, or large non-stick skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Place the chicken thighs or drumsticks in a single layer in the skillet, working in batches if necessary, and fry for three minutes until golden brown. Turn, and fry another three minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and turn the heat down to medium.
Pour in the vinegar, soy sauce, water, peppercorns, bay leaves, and garlic. Bring to a boil.
Add the chicken back into the pot and cook slowly, covered for 45 minutes or until so tender that the chicken meat falls off the bone. Pour over rice, garnish with scallions.