A few days ago. I made what I thought was Filipino pork adobo—based on a recipe I had tweaked from the internet—and served it to Eilene’s friend from the Philippines. The response I got was disappointing—“…good, but it is not Filipino pork adobo.”
The easiest way to discover a true ethnic recipe is to watch an experienced cook make it. You can see each step—especially the things they do without even thinking about it—things that are just done that way. It is much harder to have someone tell you how they make the dish, because you have to guess at the unconscious actions and ask pointed questions.
An example of this was Louise’s method of measuring brown sugar—“you pack it into a ball in your hands [until it is the right size],” on questioning [holds hands in the right shape]. Proportions in ethnic recipes tend to be extremely variable. Each ingredient was described as 1-2 of this or 1-4 of that.
In a recipe with as few ingredients as Filipino adobo, the “right” ingredients matter. Internet recipes may call for “vinegar and soy sauce,” but usually do not specify what kind. In the southern islands of the Philippians , they use Datu Puti Cane Vinegar (Sukang Maasim) and Silver Swan soy sauce.
Note: The Philippines is a large country of many islands and ethnic groups, so what is true for one group may not be true for other groups and islands. This is the way Louise’s family makes adobo.
Standard ratio for the marinade is one part vinegar to one part soy sauce to two parts water. If you like it less sour you may reduce the amount of vinegar and/or increase the amount of sugar. What is important is that there be enough marinade to completely cover the pork.
Any stewing cut of pork will work—pork blade, shoulder or butt cuts. However, on special occasions pork belly is the best cut and a treat. Marinate the pork in the cooking pot for at least six hours—overnight is better and twenty-four hours is best.
Louse makes this dish for non-Filipino friends and has adapted it to their tastes. It is less sour and sweeter than the Auntie’s. The garlic and onion are also left in large pieces, so that they can be removed by picky eaters.
Louise’s Southern Filipino Pork Adobo
1-2 lbs. pork shoulder
¾ cup Datu Puti Cane Vinegar (Sukang Maasim)
1 cup soy sauce (Silver Swan)
2 cups water
½ cup brown sugar
10 cloves garlic, whole (½ head)
½ tsp. black pepper (20 whole corns)
1-2 Laurel bay leaves
1 onion, sliced in thick rings
1. Cut the pork into 1½-2 inch cubes.
2. Put the pork in a large cooking pot and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir to mix.
Tip: Louise likes the garlic cloves whole, for the burst of flavor you get when you bite the meltingly soft cloves. The Auntie slices the garlic and onions finely, so that they break up and become part of the sauce.
Note: Soy sauce is very salty. Do not add any additional salt to this recipe.
3. Cover the pot and let the pork marinate for 6-24 hours.
Tip: How long you marinate the meat depends on how far ahead you have planned and how hungry you are.
Note: There is no heat added until you start cooking the dish.
4. Remove the lid and bring the pot to a boil.
5. Reduce the heat, to medium low, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Tip: Gently stir the pot occasionally. You want to mix the ingredients, but you do not want to break up the pork chunks.
Note: The cooking time again depends on how hungry you are and how tender you like your pork.
6. Remove the bay leaves and serve over white rice.
Note: Louise was very surprised (shocked?) by my serving adobo over brown rice—I had obviously stepped way over the cultural norm.