This time of year always makes me crave Filipino adobo and the company of my best friend, Malia. Specifically, standing in some sort of galley kitchen and stirring, talking, and sipping beer while the humid and floral aroma of jasmine rice permeates the air. And then, about halfway through the beer, a garlicky, vinegary fragrance will hit our eyes, noses and hungry stomachs all at once. That is some good adobo and it's all going to be eaten. All of it.
My birthday is in a week or so, and back at our college in Maryland, Malia started fixing adobo for me for my birthday or any other special occasion ("special" being defined by us and possibly meant having enough money to buy meat at the market and access to an actual stove. Both phenomena were infrequent, but we always had access to the beer and we daydreamed about eating the adobo quite regularly upon consuming the beer). Adobo was Malia's jam. She had it down. She grew up in a Filipino family in Kaua'i, very far away from where I grew up and where my family comes from. But like my own family recipes, hers involved vinegar, hot peppers and meat. She would make me adobo and I would fix her a mess of Eastern NC BBQ. These were our ultimate comfort foods. Both required a beer and a white starch (cheap white buns or white rice). Both were made by our mothers and grandmothers. Both usually repulsed Northern boyfriends and culinary hangers-on. It made for great girl nights! But to add to it all, we were usually watching something like Point Break or Bram Stoker's Dracula while we feasted off our cheap IKEA plates. These are important 20-year old details, but I digress...
Like my great-grandmother's recipes, I learned how to make adobo using "a little bit of this and a little bit of that." She probably learned it that way, too. I imagine both of our grannies in hot, humid kitchens across the world from each other, in their ironed, handsewn aprons with their long hair pinned back, always proper and tidy, but one was barefoot and the other had lace-up shoes and stockings. And granddaughters with unruly curly hair who love to cook their food for friends and comfort, more than half a century later. Now Malia resides in DC and I am in Seattle, but I make this and gobble it up and start thinking of silly memories and jokes almost instantly. She's right here with me.
Disclaimer: The following recipe is an approximation based on something I learned (but still tastes amazing) many years ago. The Philippines are a huge place and adobo recipes vary from region to region, if not house to house. Like Southern BBQ, it all depended on which ethnicity settled where and how they liked their meat and spices. And of course, the ingredients that were available to them.
FILIPINO ADOBO, ADAPTED FROM A FILIPINO-HAWAIIAN FAMILY RECIPE, AS MADE IN A DORM APARTMENT IN MARYLAND 20 YEARS AGO AND IS STILL DELICIOUS (SERVES TWO POOR STUDENTS)
For the adobo:
A few glugs of canola oil, to fry the meat
2 boneless chicken breasts OR a pound or so of pork (Boston butt), cut in one-inch cubes
All of the cloves from one head of garlic, whole, peeled
An oilcan of Foster's lager
1/2 cup black peppercorns
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 good quality bay leaves, broken in half
Heat up the oil in a dutch oven or tall soup pot that is easy to clean (you'll understand why later). Add the meat cubes and brown lightly. Add the garlic cloves, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Cook on med-high heat for about two minutes to release the oils and aromas. Take care not to burn the garlic. Add half a can of beer, to cover the meat cubes, and raise the heat. Cook it until it starts to boil, then add the soy sauce. It will start to caramelize after it cooks down. Add beer as needed and continue to cook down. It should look like stew when you start and glazey when you finish. It usually takes me about 30-40 minutes.
For the dipping sauce (dip your meat cubes in this and chase with steamed spinach and rice):
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp. brown sugar
Chili pepper flakes, to taste (or a glug or Sriracha, stirred in to blend)
Jasmine rice, cooked on stove top or in rice cooker. Ratio: 1 cup rice to 2 cups water. No salt.
Steam fresh or frozen spinach, top the rice with a handful of steamed spinach. Serve meat on top of the bed of rice and spinach. Dip the meat in dipping sauce.