Adobong Baboy (Filipino Pork Adobo)
In the Philippines, adobong baboy (pork adobo) is made by stewing pork in soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and aromatics. Serve this healthy pork adobo recipe with rice to get every last bit of the flavorful sauce. This dish gets better as it sits, making it a perfect make-ahead candidate for effortless entertaining.
For me, a Filipino immigrant, adobo is not just a dish, it is an identity.
I immigrated to the United States in 2004, a fresh college grad with a fresh new country to call home. I didn't realize how much I would miss the home I left. I was homesick. Desperate for a lifeline, I cooked. My lola (grandma) and tita (aunt) started teaching me to cook when I was 3 years old. I was quite resentful being sent to the kitchen to help prepare meals, because obviously I wanted to play instead. But all that kitchen training came in handy when I needed to dig deep in my memory bank to re-create the flavors of home.
Adobo was my go-to dish. It was easy. It is designed to be a set-it-and-forget-it dish. And it gets better the longer it sits. We used to joke that you should never eat adobo if it's freshly made, but rather wait another 24 hours before eating it. It gives the sauce time to permeate the meat. One pot of adobo would be my meal for at least a week. I was so homesick that I ate it repeatedly, wishing that each bite would magically transport me home, like Dorothy's ruby slippers.
To understand adobo, one needs to understand the historical timeline of the Philippines. In precolonial times, indigenous cooking methods relied on salt, vinegar and sugar not just as flavors, but also as preservatives. Vinegar is a particularly effective food preservative since it prevents bacterial growth, making it a very useful tool especially in high-humidity places like the Philippines. The most-used vinegars there are cane, palm and coconut, but rice, wine and distilled white vinegars are also used, depending on the flavor a cook wants to impart to the dish.
It has been embedded in the Filipino palate to lean on the vinegary flavor profile. Historians have traced the foundations of our indigenous cuisine to the appearance of kilaw in the 10th century, a method that uses a souring agent to "cook" food without fire, similar to Latin American ceviche. Other dishes and cooking styles feature sourness too, like a soup called sinigang. And there's paksiw, which is another style of cooking food in vinegar.
Dishes that feature meat or vegetables stewed in vinegar were given the name "adobo" by a Spanish friar, Pedro de San Buenaventura, in his book Vocabulario La Lengua Tagala back in 1613. The word is derived from adobado and adobar, Mexican and Spanish cooking terms which refer to marinating and/or stewing meats in an acid like wine or vinegar.
Adobo has evolved and morphed with the times. Before the Spanish colonized the Philippines, we were already trading with China, Malaysia, Indonesia and India via the Maritime Silk Road. With those interactions came spices, fruits and vegetables and cooking methods that have since become integral to Filipino cuisine. Adobo became an umbrella term, usually paired with a descriptor to distinguish the kind based on the type of vinegar, ingredients, meats and where it is from.
To say that there is one adobo to rule them all would be a disservice. Within the 7,641 islands in the Philippine archipelago, no one adobo is like another. Each is deeply rooted and dependent on the place, terroir and the palate of the person cooking it. And that's really the beauty and draw of this dish, isn't it? Adobong puti (white adobo) was thought to be the original form, with just vinegar, salt, garlic and bay leaves. Adobong dilaw (yellow adobo) gets its distinct yellow hue from turmeric. Adobo sa gata (adobo in coconut milk) is more popular in the southern regions of the Philippines where coconuts are more abundant. Adobong itim (black adobo), the most familiar adobo, has a dark sauce full of umami from soy sauce.
Adobo continues to evolve as Filipinos are flung to different parts of the world in search of better opportunities. Within this diaspora of overseas foreign workers, the need to feel a connection to our homeland is partnered with a desire to assimilate and adapt to our new environment. Adobo once again is adapted to place, terroir and palate, yet will always connect Filipinos like me to home.
To make ahead: Refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Although cane vinegar is made from fermented sugarcane syrup, it's not sweet. It is fresh, light and less sharp than other vinegars. Made from the nectar of flowers from the coconut tree, coconut vinegar is mild, with a slightly sweet, coconutty aftertaste. It's a staple throughout Southeast Asia and parts of India. Use it in marinades and dressings or to make pickled vegetables. Find both at Asian markets or online.
To prepare fried garlic: Place a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl. Heat 1/3 cup canola oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and add 1/4 cup sliced garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Pour the garlic and oil through the strainer. Transfer the garlic to a paper-towel-lined plate. Reserve the oil to use on salads. Store fried garlic airtight in a cool dark place for up to 1 month; refrigerate the oil for up to 2 months.