Depending on whose table you’re sitting at, adobo (ah-DOH-boh) can be a sauce, a seasoning or a nation’s defining dish.
In Spanish cuisine, adobo is a pickling sauce of olive oil, vinegar and seasonings. In Mexico, the Old World sauce was enlivened with New World tomatoes and chiles. Mexican cooks make frequent use of adobo as a marinade or a sauce, often adding hints of sour orange or lime. One tasty example, chipotles in adobo (smoked jalapeño peppers packed in adobo sauce) is readily available in U.S. groceries.
In Puerto Rico, adobo takes on a different meaning. Adobo seco is a dry seasoning blend that Puerto Rican cooks use about as routinely as we use salt and pepper. It’s generally a blend of salt, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper and oregano, often home-blended and tweaked according to the cook’s preference with saffron, cumin and dried citrus zest.
When the Spanish invaded the Philippines, they encountered the native technique of stewing meats in vinegar and quickly dubbed it “adobo.” Filipinos cooks adopted their captor’s name for the dish, and today, “adobo” is considered their nation’s iconic dish. In a typical Filipino preparation, pork or chicken is stewed with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaf. The cooked meat is then grilled or fried and served with the sauce in which it simmered. Filipino-style adobo is standard fare for tourists at Hawaiian luaus.
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.