Let’s just get this out of the way: I don’t know the first thing about Filipino cooking. I don’t know my lechon from my sisig, and unlike most food bloggers, can’t regale you with a personal anecdote about how chicken adobo first entered my life and made me a better, more thoughtful person.
(Now, ask me about Puerto RICAN chicken adobo, and I’ll tell you all about my friend Angel who ate fried plantains at every meal and who first encouraged me to mix whole milk with my powdered Tang inside the impossibly clean breakfast nook at his mother’s artificial papaya-scented house. But that’s another story for another day.)
Though Filipino chicken adobo may have gotten its name from the Spanish word for “marinade” (seriously, it’s not a Spanish dish; colonizing Spaniards saw Filipinos preserving meat in a marinade, and applied the blanket terminology of the day), the sauce bears little resemblance to its Spanish and Mexican cousins.
Made of almost equal parts reduced soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, with tons of garlic, bay leaves, and a few peppercorns and chilies thrown in for good measure, Filipino adobo sauce is addictive stuff; tart, sweet, sour, and spicy, all at once. It lights up all of these different (and confusing) pleasure receptors in your brain, sending your endorphins slamming around like a steel ball in a lit-up pinball machine.
This quality made it seem like a perfect match for whipping up some tacos. Let’s get started, shall we?
- 15 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 3 serrano chiles, halved lengthwise
- 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- ¾ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water (optional, see note)
- 4 skin-on chicken thighs, deboned
- 1/4 cup flour
- Two eggs, beaten
- 2 cups peanut or vegetable oil
- 1 fennel bulb, top trimmed and thinly sliced
- 1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon celery seed
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- Splash of rice wine vinegar
- 12 corn tortillas
- Scallions, thinly sliced
- Fresh cilantro leaves
- Place chicken, garlic, chiles, ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, peppercorns, brown sugar, and bay leaves in a large Ziplock bag; toss to combine. Chill, turning chicken once, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Remove chicken and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine marinade and ½ cup water; bring to a simmer. Cover saucepan and cook 35 minutes. Uncover and continue to simmer, adjusting heat if needed, until meat is very tender and liquid is reduced and starting to glaze, about 25 minutes. Add cornstarch slurry to speed thickening, if desired.
- In a small saucepan or deep fryer, heat oil until shimmering and until a drop of water or a breadcrumb sizzles, but doesn't go all crazy and explode (350 degrees, if you've got a candy thermometer or a deep fryer with a temperature setting). Set up your dredging station for the chicken: Dip each marinated thigh in flour, then in egg wash, then back in the flour. Fry each piece in batches until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165, about 15-18 minutes.
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl, toss to thoroughly combine, and set aside.
- Roughly chop each cooked chicken thigh (one thigh will make three tacos). Pile onto tortillas and top with finished Adobo sauce, finished slaw, cilantro leaves, and a scatter of sliced scallions.
- A note about thickening the adobo with cornstarch: Though not a part of the traditional Filipino method, I like how this speeds up the thickening process for the finished sauce and adds an attractive sheen to the surface. Up to you.