Chef Vicky Pacheco prefers her adobo dry with very little oil in it. Why? Because that’s the kind of adobo she grew up with and learned from her paternal grandmother, lola Angustia Pacheco, from Balanga, Bataan.
Angustia, who was also an expert in the kitchen, lived to 100 years old.
“In our house that’s the official adobo,” says Pacheco of the famed Chateau group of restaurants (Sentro, Chateau 1771, Café 1771, Sidebar). “Never saucy, but when you bite into the meat it’s packed with very flavorful combinations of native garlic [lots and lots of it], vinegar from Cotabato, freshly ground pepper and sea salt.”
There is neither soy sauce nor bay leaf.
“We don’t like soy sauce in our adobo, and if by chance somebody used it in the adobo at home, all of us would comment straight away, ‘What is this?’”
The adobo’s piquant taste comes from sukang tuba (coconut sap vinegar) supplied by Pacheco’s brother Jun, who owns a coconut plantation in Cotabato. It lends a full-bodied aroma and relish to the mixture. If the supply is not available, Pacheco makes do with sukang Paombong from Bulacan, which also offers sharp nuances in the blend.
For the Pachecos, it’s never chicken-pork adobo without the laman–loob—chicken gizzard, liver and heart. Interestingly, Vicky Pacheco got to enjoy and savor the goodness of the internal organs only when she became a chef herself.
“When I was young I found the innards quite awful,” she recalls. “I couldn’t understand why my dad would eat this kind of stuff. But when I got older I realized those were the best parts. The gizzards balance the overall adobo taste with their texture and earthy flavors.”
Pacheco stews the meat in vinegar and lets it simmer for a while. Then she removes the meat and fries it separately. After frying, she returns the meat to the sauce and lets it cook for a few more minutes.
“It’s like a twice-cooked adobo. The brown color comes from frying the meat,” explains Pacheco, a descendant of Teresita “Mama Sita” Reyes, the daughter of
Engracia “Aling Asiang” Reyes.
Another secret to Pacheco’s delicious adobo is the pork fat. She learned this from her aunt Nancy Reyes Lumen. The fat helps thicken the mixture. In a big wide pot, Pacheco lays the pork back fat at the bottom. After cooking, she simply discards the fat.
“I find adobo boring without the pork fat. It adds character to it,” she says.
Another adobo Pacheco craves for is the “Hito sa Luyang Dilaw”. The hito (catfish) is similarly prepared like the chicken adobo, but this one is cooked in turmeric or luyangdilaw.
However, the adobo sauce is not totally reduced; a little sauce is retained, which is ideally drizzled on a mound of rice.
“I like eating the hito with my hands, with fish sauce on the side,” says Pacheco.
In Sentro, Pacheco serves her adobonghito crunchy and nicely flaked.
Every Sunday, the Pacheco family eats adobo. They usually make a weekly stock of the dish at home. They will cook big batches of chicken and pork adobo—about five kilos of chicken and pork—and store them in the fridge.
If any member of the family craves for it, one simply takes it out from the ref and pan-fry or microwave the adobo.
The Pachecos usually pair the dish with either bulanglang or pinakbet.
“Sometimes, simple kangkong or talbos ng kamote boiled with onions will already do wonders,” says Pacheco.
Hito sa Luyang Dilaw
1 k catfish (hito), cleaned and cut up into pieces
1 ½ tsp black peppercorn, coarsely ground
1 tbsp sea salt
2 ½ c Don Felipe Sukang Tuba
25 g native garlic, crushed with peel
25 g luyang dilaw (turmeric), peeled, cut into pieces and smashed
¼ c palm oil
(Have the cleaning and cutting of the catfish done at the market.)
Wash the hito and drain. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Get a kawali (wok) and place the hito, vinegar, garlic and luyang dilaw. Set on a stove over medium heat and cover. Cook until fish is tender, without opening and closing the cover and without mixing.
When the hito is tender, take out carefully. Take a frying pan or a well-seasoned wok and add palm oil. Set on medium fire.
Fry the hito pieces, browning all sides. Once brown, put back in all the fried hito and pour all the contents of the kawali with the sauce, the garlic and the luyang dilaw. Set on medium-high heat.
Cook until sauce thickens a bit. You can mix the whole thing.
3 whole chicken (1 ½ k per piece)
2 tbsp black peppercorn, coarsely ground
3 tbsp sea salt
160 g pork back fat
2 ½ c Don Felipe Sukang Tuba
100 g native garlic, crushed with peel
(Freshly slaughtered chicken is always first choice.)
Cut up the chicken into several pieces. Save the gizzard, liver and heart. Remove all feathers. Wash and drain. Rub the chicken with salt and pepper. Get a big wide pot with a cover and lay the pork back fat at the bottom.
Put in the chicken, the gizzard, liver and heart, the vinegar and garlic. Set on a stove over medium heat, cover and leave until cooked. Avoid opening and closing the lid; do not stir.
When the chicken pieces are tender, take out and drain.
Brown the chicken either by frying the pieces batch by batch or laying them on a tray and broiling them. You must turn the pieces to have an even browning.
Once all the pieces are brown, return to the pot where the sauce, the pork fat and the garlic are. Set on a stove over medium fire and cook until all the sauce is absorbed by the chicken pieces, or until dry. Leave uncovered and mix occasionally.