I couldn’t find my old Sunset Magazine recipe for (Filipino) chicken adobo, so I researched online and discovered that quite a bit of controversy persists over the proper method and proportion of ingredients. It seems to depend on what region of the Philippines you or your mother came from, whether you will use equal portions of soy sauce and vinegar, or will include tomatoes — and more variables than that. Cooking is folk art, isn’t it?
Eventually I settled on this recipe from The Splendid Table, created by two women who don’t appear to be Filipinas themselves, but I liked that they authoritatively state: “One of the cooking techniques that sets Filipino adobo apart is that you brown the meat after it is cooked, not before. That aroma of a browning, marinade-saturated chicken can drive you crazy.” Theirs was the only version I found that included this instruction. By the way, in Spain when they talk about adobo they refer more generally to a marinade, and not to this particular dish.
Even I tweaked the recipe a bit. I used a little less vinegar and more soy sauce, and I fried the onions separately and threw them on the rice at the end.
However you adjust your ingredients — and unless your mother insists that you make it her way, you should feel a great deal of freedom to experiment — the essential flavors that make adobo are vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, bay leaf, and garlic. Pork and beef liver are commonly used instead of or in combination with chicken. This version called for 10 large cloves of garlic, and mine were actually gigantic.
The whole dish was quite piquant and delectable; I was glad that I did saute the chicken at the end because the skins got nice and crispy-tasty. I served white rice to soak up some of that garlicky sauce, and a vegetable, and we feasted.