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Filipino adobo
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Filipino adobo

With all the enthusiasm that attends the cuisines of Southeast Asia these days, with Thai and Vietnamese restaurants luring hungry crowds in just about every town, it's curious that the food of the Philippines doesn't seem to attract as much attention.

Perhaps it's simply a matter of familiarity, as several centuries of colonization by Spain followed by a shorter period of American dominion has left this island nation a culinary legacy that in some respects is not all that exotic to Western palates.

But today's featured recipe might just recalibrate your attitude. Adobo, sometimes described as the national dish of the Philippines, is an easy and delicious dinner that has become a favorite in our household. It turns chicken and pork into succulent tender bites swimming in a salty, savory sauce that's great for ladling over steaming rice.

We love it with the comforting flavor of star anise as a significant element, a gentle aromatic that's much more delicate than licorice. But if this flavor family makes you gag, it's worth noting that many adobo recipes simply leave it out. Like most old-country recipes from all over the world, adobo comes in almost infinite variations and may be easily tweaked to fit your tastes and what's in the pantry. (The Mexican specialty called adobo, by the way, likely traces its linguistic ancestry back to the same Spanish word, but it's an entirely different dish, sauced with chile peppers and tomatoes.)

I learned this easy version from Filipino friends years ago, and many repetitions have probably evolved it into something more American than Filipino. But we like it, and I hope you will, too.

INGREDIENTS: (Four to six servings)

1 pound chicken thighs and legs
1 pound boneless pork loin or butt
4 ounces white vinegar
4 ounces soy sauce
3 or 4 star anise
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
Black pepper


1. Remove excess fat from the chicken pieces, and skin them if you wish to avoid extra calories. Cut the pork into bite-size pieces.

2. Put the chicken and pork in a saucepan and add all the other liquids and seasoning ingredients. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to very low and simmer, covered, for an hour or more, until the meats are falling-apart tender and the sauce is somewhat thickened. (If there seems to be too much liquid at the end, you can take off the lid, increase heat and boil until it has reduced a bit.)

Serve with plenty of rice and a salad or green vegetable.

MATCHING WINE: Although this dish is hardly in the Western wine tradition, I've had good luck matching it with fruity, dry Mediterranean reds, particularly modest Spanish Rioja; most recently I served it with a Rhone-style California red, the Mosby 2000 "Roc Michel" Monterey County Red Table Wine reviewed at

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Thursday, Sept. 4, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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