Adobo is the sort of dish that brings tears to the eyes of many an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) or émigré who ends up someplace where the food of our tropical nation is nowhere to be found. Unless you also take sinigang (a clear, savory fish or pork soup soured with green tamarind paste) into consideration, this dish of pork braised with vinegar, black pepper, & garlic is the most quintessential, most fundamental item in the entire roster of dishes in Philippine cuisine. It is said that, before one leaves the country for an extended period of time abroad, one needs to learn how to cook adobo; in that way, the flavor of home could be enjoyed in just about any part of the world barring both North & South Poles, as well as the Sahara Desert.
Adobo is to Filipinos what chicken soup is to Jewish communities or pot-au-feu is to the French: a taste of home adapted to the palates of generations of one’s family or to what ingredients are most available in the local markets or even to whichever part of the country your ancestors came from. Nevertheless, its most basic building blocks involve the ingredients used for the braising liquid: vinegar, black peppercorns, & plenty of garlic.
Some families such as mine add soy sauce for color and to add a savory richness to the dish. My friend Klowi is from Bicol and rock salt is what adds the savor in her mother’s version. Chinese-Filipino families like theirs sweeter – like a cross between the classic version & sweet red-cooked pork – and add spices like cassia bark or star anise. Those of Spanish extraction also opt to toss in fresh tomatoes or add some Castilian fire in the form of pimenton picante or cayenne pepper. There are even some froufrou types who use lamb, balsamic or red wine vinegar, and those rare pink peppercorns – but those people ought to be hung, drawn, and quartered for making a pretentious mess of such a wholesome dish!
Most Filipino families use a mix of pork & chicken for the dish, but we prefer to use just pork as the meat is substantial enough in both flavor & heft to stand up to lengthy braising. (Chicken adobo does nothing for me, really; it almost always is too dry & stringy!) The amount of fat in the pork also works as a preservative along with the other ingredients, and this sort of staying power means that you can braise a batch today & stick it in the fridge to reheat or to fry up till crunchy for another meal.
I confess that I’ve never cooked adobo before. For one, I’m an absolute chicken about using pressure cookers – which is how the dish is usually prepared at home. But a recent rummage among my cookbooks & food magazines led to what we had for lunch this afternoon: adobo sa piña.
My mother got the idea for adding tinned pineapple – syrup & all – to adobo from a television commercial touting the merits of adding the fruit to savory dishes to help throw in more fruit into Filipino diets. It’s an idea that actually works: the tangy sweetness of the fruit balances the sharp acidity of the cane vinegar & offsets the saltiness of the soy sauce. Plus, the enzymes in the pineapple help to tenderize the meat throughout the length of the braising process.
Now, I confess that this is also a bit prissier than most conventional adobo recipes due to the addition of Worcestershire sauce in the last quarter-hour of cooking, but believe me when I say that it does make the finished dish more delectable. Be sure to use pork belly as it’s the best and most substantial cut of meat for a proper adobo. Just be sure not to forget the rice!
Adobo sa Piña
- 1 kilo pork belly or spare ribs, cut into large cubes
- 1/2 cup cane or white vinegar
- 1/3 cup dark soy sauce
- 6 – 8 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled, & coarsely chopped
- 3 dry bay leaves
- scant 1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
- 1/2 cup water
- 1-1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 235 grams pineapple tidbits, liquid drained & reserved.
Place the pork, vinegar, soy sauce, water, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, & reserved pineapple syrup or juice in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or wok. Stir & cook over medium heat until it begins to boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover. Leave to cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally & making sure that the sauce doesn’t boil dry.
Add the pineapple & stir in the Worcestershire sauce. Cover & cook an additional 15 minutes or until the pork has become meltingly tender. Remove from heat & serve immediately.