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Adventures in food for curious cooks.

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Week 1 - Once Upon A Time In Southeast Asia

Our story begins in the Philippines, home of Chicken Adobo and the red jungle fowl.

Red jungle fowl depicted in  Game Birds of India, Burmah and Ceylon (1879-1881) , by Edward Neale.

Red jungle fowl depicted in Game Birds of India, Burmah and Ceylon (1879-1881), by Edward Neale.

It all began thousands of years ago in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. As humans learned to cultivate plants and grow their own food, they noticed that among the local wild birds, the skittish red jungle fowl tended to walk along the ground, beneficially eating the pesky weeds and bugs while it roamed the fields.

In a classic case of natural selection, every once in awhile one of these fowl would be missing the usual skittish trait and would seem more comfortable around people. It would stick around and lay eggs, and some of its chicks might also be comfortable hanging around the humans.  Humans liked the bug-eating, egg-laying convenience of keeping these birds around, and the birds liked the regular supply of food and safe, comfortable place to lay eggs.  As this relationship of convenience flourished, some of these wild birds became barnyard regulars. And gradually, they became chickens. 

Scientists have not pinpointed the exact time or place of this transition, but it was somewhere within the tropical swath of Asia that stretches from the Philippines to India, perhaps 5,000 years ago. And so we begin our tale of the chicken there.

Ancient Deliciousness

Adobo is an ancient Filipino cooking method. Long before Europeans discovered the islands, the local people were cooking meat and vegetables in vinegar and salt. These powerful natural preservatives would help keep food from spoiling in the warm tropical climate. 

When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, they called this adobo, from the Spanish word adobar which means "to marinate." And so it is that this classic, indigenous Filipino cooking method has a Spanish name. 

Over time, soy sauce was added to replace all or some of the salt in most recipes.  Today, a classic adobo is made with vinegar and soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns.

Adobo is really, really delicious. If you haven't tried it, you should. And, perhaps surprisingly for an ancient recipe, it's as easy and modern as you can imagine.

Modern Deliciousness

It all starts with ingredients you probably have in your kitchen right now (or know exactly where to get): white vinegar, soy sauce, garlic cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns.  And the preparation is as simple as it can be: put them all in a pot, put the chicken in and boil it awhile. A classic adobo could stop there, but many recipes (ours included) take one more simple step to brown the meat and reduce and thicken the sauce (though in the Philippines, the sauce is traditionally thickened with pig's blood).

In modern recipes, the final stage of this very salty broth seems to be largely a matter of preference. Some prefer a wet, brothy sauce that can run all over the plate and mix with rice. Others prefer a thicker sauce, mainly to act as a glaze for the chicken. My personal preference is somewhere in between: I enjoy the deliciously flavored chicken without much of the broth, and use just a bit of the broth to flavor the rice.

But whatever you do...

Keep leftover chicken and broth as flavorful additions for other dishes! I created this Adobo Rice Bowl for my family with our leftovers. With this flavorful chicken and highly seasoned broth, you can come up with many creations of your own as well. 

Historical and archeological information in this post is based on Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? The Epic Saga of the Bird That Powers Civilization, by Andrew Lawler.


Chicken Adobo (Adobong Manok)

No obscure ingredients. No complicated cooking methods. This recipe is an easy weeknight dinner filled with flavor that everyone will love.

Adobo Rice Bowl

Leftover goodness, a meal in a bowl. Use leftover chicken and sauce from Chicken Adobo, combined with sauteed spinach, toasted almonds, green onions and cilantro.

Garlicky Brown Rice

Shown here with Chicken Adobo, also a great choice for Adobo Rice Bowl.