Filipino Chicken Adobo

True story: I spent the first ten days of 2018 without my sense of smell.

I developed a really bad cold that turned into a sinus infection and then one minute I can still smell eucalyptus oil and the next minute, I can’t smell anything.  I had horrible headaches and I was so congested and my nostrils felt raw because I kpet blowing my nose and I was just so, so uncomfortable, but the WORST thing was not being able to smell anything. I couldn’t smell Tiger Balm (it’s like a potent, Asian version of Vick’s Vaporub). I couldn’t smell chopped onions. I couldn’t smell roast chicken. Nothing. Breathing was laborous. Eating felt like a chore, deprived of joy.

One day I made chicken noodle soup (Matt was starting to get sick, too) and when I instinctively leaned down to smell it, I got a very subtle waft of chicken and veggies and stock. Oh I was so happy! Throughout the day I kept sniffing things and sometimes I can make out whispers of smell, like ghosts of their former selves. But eventually, like most sad and dramatic stories, I got better and things returned to normal.

I mean, I knew I would eventually not be sick anymore, but when you’re in the thick of it, you’re mind sometimes get cloudy, no? I kept thinking about Molly Birnbaum and her book “Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way” and I kept thinking, “I can’t be the next food blogger to lose my sense of smell for a year!”

Even if everyone kept assuring me that it’s normal to not be able to smell anything when you’re that sick, I kept freaking out. (Previously when I would get sick, I would only have a diminished sense of smell, but I never really went to zero.) And I kept thinking about adobo.

For those who are new here, adobo is the most Filipino of all foods. It’s the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, so ingrained in our culture, that just the thought of the fragrant stew can make any Filipino think fondly of home. This is what I said before, and it’s still true now:

My family’s go-to dish, like so many other Filipinos living abroad, is adobo. It does not matter that the dish takes hours to cook and the smell of it stays in the apartment for days – it brings us a taste of home. All Filipino families each have their own recipes for adobo. It’s any meat or any combination of meats that is braised and simmered in vinegar, soy sauce, lots of garlic, black peppercorn, and bay leaves. Every family claims that their version is the best.

I’ve written about adobo multiple times: pork belly adobo, pork and chicken adobo, cockfights and adobo. Adobo – and Filipino food – is becoming more popular lately (Saveur came out with a Beginner’s Guide to Filipino Adobo, and Bon Appetit claims it’s the greatest recipe of all time) and I have been craving my family’s savory, vinegary version.

I made adobo with chicken thighs for me and Matt right before the New Year, and it’s deliciousness was overwhelming, with the flavors and textures that fed me my entire my life. I threw all the ingredients together in my trusty dutch oven, cooked it covered for 30 minutes, then uncovered for another 30. I browned the meat to get some crispy skin while further reducing the sauce, and then submerged the chicken back into the braising liquid. We ate it over fluffy white rice, with a spoon and fork. It made our little Cambridge apartment smell just like my family’s home in Manila.

One of the wonderful things about adobo is you can alter it in many different ways to make it your own. You can change the ratio of vinegar and soy sauce, you can use different meats (my family’s go to is pork and liver adobo) or vegetables (my favorite is sitaw, or string beans), you can add coconut milk, a little sugar, onions, ginger, hard-boiled eggs, chilies.

This is my family’s recipe. It’s the taste of my most cherished memories, and the smell that brings me back home.

Yield: serves 3

Filipino Chicken Adobo

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes


6 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on)
1 ½ cups vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
10 garlic cloves (around 1 whole head of garlic), smashed
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarse salt
8-10 dried bay leaves
1 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
fresh chives for garnish


  1. Place the chicken, vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, salt, peppercorns, and seven of the smashed garlic cloves in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add one cup water, plus more if necessary, to barely cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove the cover and simmer, uncovered, for another 30 minutes.
  3. Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken and set aside. Increase heat to high and allow the broth to continue simmering.
  4. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic cloves. Add chicken and sear each piece on both sides until golden brown and skin is crispy.
  5. Return chicken to the pot, and continue reducing the sauce by simmering for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens to your liking. Serve with white rice, and garnish with chives, green onion, and/or chilies.

Here’s to a new year filled with comfort and uplifting scents!