Sunday, August 31, 2008

Adobo by Erique Fat Owl

Chicken Adobo
served with couscous in garlic & kumquat jus and grilled baby aubergines

Say MABUHAY to the 7,107 isles of the Philippines, the jewels of the orient, as we take you to yet another one of our culinary adventures around the globe!

Okay, enough of the 1980's Stephen-Yan-Wok-With-Yan greetings.

So I've had this idea of cooking a Filipino dish for awhile now, but haven't got into it until now. I thought, what better to start than cooking the quintessential national dish of the Philippines, the Adobo. I got the recipe online at first - the ingredients are simple enough - vinegar, garlic, pepper, bay leaves, etc. However, after consulting with my Filipino friend's mom, who happened to be in town to visit her son, I've got some insider tip on how to make the Adobo even more delicious. Instead of adding all vinegar, she told me to add half vinegar half calamansi juice and some sugar.

The calamansi would make the Adobo 'fresher' and the sugar helps to caramelize the sauce even faster. However, it's really hard to find calamansi (a type of lime) in Sydney, so I was told to substitute it with kumquats, which are more readily available.

I love garlics, and I love garlicky food - so I doubled the garlic on the recipe.

Speaking of garlicky food, I always remember how my family HATED to take me to shui jiao (Chinese dumplings) restaurants back home in Jakarta because they knew I would put heaps and heaps of crushed garlic paste on my sauce plate. My dad and my brother, who has an ultra sensitive smelling sense, can't stand the smell of garlics, and would refuse to speak to me (or getting too close to me) after our shui jiao restaurant trips before I brush my teeth at least twice!

Note: In China, shui jiao is eaten with vinegared soy sauce, but in Indonesia, Chinese shui jiao is eaten with a mouthwatering yet fiery concoction of chilli sauce, chilli paste, vinegar, sesame oil, and crushed garlic paste. At the restaurants, they provide small pots containing each of the ingredients, and you make your own concoction as you like. I always put heaps of garlic in my sauce - probably enough to drive several vampires away.

Back to Adobo - there are many varieties of Adobo in the Philippines, and this also includes the type of meat they use. I used chicken breast fillets - not my first choice, to be honest - I always thought that Adobo is better suited with chicken pieces with bone and skin still on. However, considering that I live in Australia, the thought of using that type of chicken scares me. Australian chickens are huu-uuge in comparison to, say, Indonesian chicken (or Filipino chicken, I would imagine). I couldn't help but imagine that most chickens in Australia are hormone-enhanced (that's why they're so big). In fact, one of my Indonesian friend's mom made an interesting comment when she visited a supermarket in Sydney for the very first time in her life - she was looking for whole chickens, yet couldn't seem to find them. The fact is, there are lots of whole chickens in the supermarkets, but they're so huge (in Indonesian standard) that she thought they're turkeys!!!

My mom always insisted on using ayam kampung (lit. 'village chicken', which is basically organic, free-range chicken) when she cook Indonesian dishes. Indonesian ayam kampung is truly delicious - they're skinny and meat-less (compared to normal chickens) but the meat is fragrant and extremely tasty. When it's 'organic' in Indonesia, you can be sure that it's REALLY organic. As in, small farmers in small villages actually hand-fed them with corns on their backyards before sending them to the cities to be slaughtered. That's why ayam kampung is far more expensive than ayam negri (lit. 'national chicken' which are normal hormone-fattened chickens) in Indonesia - almost 3 times the price (for less than half the meat). But if it's aroma and delicate texture you're after, you can't go wrong with ayam kampung.

Looking for ayam kampung in Australia is somewhat difficult. For a start, even the most expensive, most organic free-range chicken you can find in gourmet butchers are still HUGE in comparison to Indonesian ayam kampung. Makes me wonder on just how organic those organic chickens in Australia actually are. But maybe they're just of a different species and they're actually plump by nature, I don't know.

So, I decided to use organic chicken breast fillets instead.
Another desirable quality of the Adobo is that you have to pan-fry them (get it out of the sauce and pan-fry them) until they're crispy on the outside. This is rather hard to achieve with chicken breast fillets. I've tried my best, but couldn't really achieve those crispy edges. Perhaps if I use chinese-style woks, it would yield a better result.

To complement the dish, I thought that Jasmine rice would be suitable - but Jasmine rice is Thai. I don't know what variety of rice is considered the best in the Philippines, and even if I know, I don't think I can find it in Sydney. So, normal, medium-grain rice should do the trick for now. But then, couscous came to mind - I think couscous would be perfect as well, and also, couscous is more absorbent than rice, so I can infuse it with more flavors. I used the cumquat and garlic jus, and then stir it through with some of the Adobo sauce just to give it a hint of flavoring. I think the result is great - it obviously complements the Adobo and provides a suitable base of the strong-flavored meat.

So there you go - chicken Adobo. It's delicious, easy to make, and wholesome. Makes me wonder why this dish is not very recognized outside the Philippines even though it's so tasty and universal-tasting. More people should cook this dish!

Thanks to Mrs. Cuizon for her tips! Salamat po!


Leony said...

Yay ! Another home cooking from Erik :D Yippie... My last 6 months in the States, I attended several potluck sessions with friends....and one of my friend actually created the Adobo. I thought it was some kind of ayam kecap hehehehe... Tapi wangiii banget, beda sama ayam kecap biasa, benernya dia masaknya 1 kitchen sama gue, tapi gue bikinnya kue soes hihihi... jadi sebelum sampe tempat potluck, itu adobo chicken udah ilang beberapa potong, dan kue soes gue udah ilang juga lebih dari 10 biji hihihihi... The way you plate the adobo is very pretty too...

Btw, have you ever tried to use cornish hen in replacement of the ayam kampung? Sometimes kalo udah desperate, gue pake itu, especially buat slow cook bikin sop. Abisnya kesel sih sama ayam negeri, lemaknya seabreg. Memang sih cornish hen tetep gak bisa seenak ayam kampung, tp lumayan drpd gak ada.

PS: Eh Rik, thanks for correcting my spelling on my last entry :D. Kmarin itu gue gak tau cara spellnya, jadi gue tulis aja sembarangan (ditambah emosi gara2 nyampe kantor telat hahaha).

Anonymous said...

yup, i was going to suggest the same thing.. pake cornish hen :)


Erique Fat Owl said...

It's kind of different. Cornish hen is actually YOUNG chicken. Agak beda rasanya. It's like veal - it has better texture but not the flavor...