Adobo, though Spanish in name, is a native Filipino method of cooking meats, seafood, or vegetables in a mixture of vinegar, salt and/or soy, bay leaves, black peppercorns and garlic. Caldereta is a beef stew of Spanish origin, yet it is distinctly Filipino with the addition of liver puree that thickens and flavors the stew. Finally, leche flan is for dessert. Although Spanish flans are usually made with fresh milk and cream, Filipino leche flan is a great example of how we have been able to transform seemingly ordinary canned goods into something so decadent.
I hope the readers of Positively Filipino enjoy these recipes.
This is the chicken adobo I grew up with–everything is thrown into a pot and simmered, the sauce is boiled and reduced, done. It is adobo in its simplest, most basic, and perhaps best form.
But don’t confuse basic with bland. As the sauce for this dish finishes and boils, the bubbling helps to emulsify the liquid with the chicken fat in the pan, creating a simple yet flavorful glaze. And even though the chicken isn’t browned or seared, it still achieves a beautiful brown sheen from the luscious sauce.
Serves 4-6 as part of a multicourse meal
¼ cup (65ml) soy sauce
½ cup (125ml) white Filipino cane vinegar, or distilled white vinegar
6-8 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife and peeled
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
Place the soy, vinegar, garlic, black peppercorns and bay leaves in a large, nonreactive sauté pan, then nestle the chicken thighs, skin side down, into the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, then cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over, then cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Uncover the pan, then increase the heat to high and return the sauce to a boil. While occasionally turning and basting the chicken, continue boiling the sauce, uncovered, until it is reduced by half and thickens slightly, 5-7 minutes. Serve with steamed white rice.
VARIATIONS: While the sauce is reducing, transfer the chicken thighs, skin side up, to a foil-lined sheet pan. Brown the chicken thighs underneath the broiler for 3-5 minutes.
Use freshly ground black pepper instead of whole peppercorns.
For a “drier” chicken adobo, you can reduce the sauce until it is almost completely evaporated. The chicken will then begin to fry in its own fat that is still left in the pan. This is how my grandmother finishes her adobo.
For a saucier adobo, double the amount of soy sauce and vinegar.
To make this adobo as an appetizer, use 2 pounds (1.5kg) of chicken wings instead of thighs.
Spicy Beef Stew (Caldereta)
Like most beef stews, Caldereta features chunks of beef, slowly simmered in a flavorful broth or sauce. But what sets Caldereta apart is the addition of liver pate–often in the form of canned liverwurst spread—that is whisked into the sauce. While liverwurst might seem like a strange ingredient for a beef stew, it imparts a deeply rich flavor while also helping to thicken the sauce.
2 pounds (1kg) beef chuck, cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup (250ml) red wine
¼ cup (65ml) soy sauce
One 4.25 ounce (120g) can prepared liverwurst spread
One 8 ounce (250ml) can tomato sauce
Water, to cover
2 bay leaves
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, deseeded and diced
Season the beef with the salt and black pepper. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over moderately high heat. Working in batches, brown the beef on all sides, 5-7 minutes total. Set the browned beef aside on a large platter.
Add the onions, carrots, garlic and red pepper flakes to the pot and cook until the onions become soft and translucent, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until the tomato paste is completely incorporated into the vegetables and begins to brown, 1-2 minutes.
Pour in the red wine and soy sauce, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil and continue cooking until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the liverwurst and tomato sauce and stir well to combine.
Return the browned beef, and any accumulated juices from its platter, to the pot. Pour in just enough water cover the beef and then add the bay leaves. Bring the pot to a boil and then cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, over low heat until the beef is fork tender, about 2 hours. For the last 10 minutes of cooking, stir in the diced bell peppers.
The Caldereta can be served with rice, or a crusty baguette.
Smooth and Creamy Leche Flan
A standard, and beloved, Filipino dessert, Leche Flan is a sweet caramel custard usually made from canned condensed milk and canned evaporated milk. The dish is a great example of how Filipinos have been able to adapt and transform seemingly simple canned goods into something so decadent.
Leche Flan can range in texture from extremely heavy and dense to creamy and light. In fact, my grandmother often uses a dozen egg yolks alone in her very rich Leche Flan.
After much experimentation, though, I’ve found that using 2 large eggs and 4 large egg yolks strikes the right balance for a rich and creamy flan that isn’t overly dense. Mine is a simple and straightforward recipe for Leche Flan that results in an amazingly smooth and creamy dessert.
½ cup (100g) sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
One 14-ounce (400ml) can sweetened condensed milk
One 12-ounce (350ml) can evaporated milk
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Set six 6-8 ounce (185-250ml) oven-safe ramekins in a large roasting pan or deep baking dish. Pour enough water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Remove the ramekins from the pan and set the ramekins aside and next to the stovetop. Place the pan full of water onto a center rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325° F (160° C).
Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over moderately high heat and bring to a boil. As the sugar boils, carefully and gently swirl the pan. Continue to boil until the sugar takes on a blonde or light brown color, 3-5 minutes–the darker the sugar gets, the more difficult it may be to later remove the flan from the ramekins. If the sugar becomes too foamy to judge its color, remove it from the heat until the bubbles subside.
Once the sugar caramelizes and reaches a blonde or light brown color, remove it from the heat and quickly, but very carefully, pour it into each of the ramekins. Caramel is extremely hot and dangerous, so when pouring it into the ramekins, be careful to not burn yourself. Quickly tilt the ramekins to ensure that the bottom surfaces are evenly coated in the caramel. Set the ramekins aside and allow the caramel to cool and harden into a candy.
Meanwhile, beat together the eggs and egg yolks in a large bowl. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, salt and vanilla extract and whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour the custard mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over another large bowl–this will help to ensure a smoother flan by straining out any bubbles or un-whisked egg proteins. After straining the custard mixture, gently stir in the lemon zest.
Evenly distribute the custard mixture into each of the ramekins. Carefully place the ramekins into the water bath in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the custard is set, but still jiggles slightly in the center when shaken. Note that flans in wide, shallow ramekins tend to bake faster than those in narrow and deep ramekins. Remove the flans from the water bath in the oven and set them aside to cool to room temperature. Wrap each of the ramekins in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight to completely chill.
To serve, run a thin-bladed knife around the edges of the flan, then invert the ramekin onto a serving plate. If you find that the flan is sticking to the ramekin, dip the bottom of the ramekin into a bowl hot water for 1-2 minutes.
Marvin Gapultos is the author of the celebrated food blog, Burnt Lumpia (www.burntlumpiablog.com), and was the founder of Los Angeles’ first gourmet Filipino food truck, The Manila Machine. His first cookbook entitled, "The Adobo Road Cookbook: A Filipino Food Journey--From Food Blog, to Food Truck, and Beyond" is available for sale at Barnes and Noble Bookstores, as well as from Amazon.