Make This Flavor-Packed Filipino Chicken Adobo

Chef Rey Eugenio says cuisine from the Philippines doesn’t need to be elevated.

By all accounts, Chef Rey Eugenio had a fulfilling culinary career. He had mastered French technique at luxury resorts in Florida, learned from well-known chefs like Kenny Gilbert and Lawrence McFadden, helped design menus and open brand new concepts, and even cooked private meals for Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.

But a few years ago, he realized something was missing.

“I felt like there was nowhere for me to go as a chef,” he says now. “There wasn’t a day that I went into restaurants and I didn’t think about ingredients I could use for a Filipino dish. It was time for me to find something on my own.”

Eugenio started doing Filipino pop-ups at local breweries and restaurants in Baltimore, to test out people’s comfort zone with the cuisine. “For the past 12 to 15 years, you’d hear little pockets of news about Filipino cuisine—maybe in LA or New York City or Chicago—but never outside of those cities,” he says. “But, here, they embraced it with love.”

Soon, he was ready to open a permanent concept, Heritage Kitchen, a restaurant that celebrates cuisine from the Philippines inside the food hall Whitehall Market. Heritage feels like the anchor of the entire space with an airy dining room flooded with natural light, plush green booths, and an open kitchen where you’ll almost always find Eugenio.

Opening during the pandemic wasn’t an ideal way to introduce his concept, but the chef made adjustments, tweaking his food to be more takeout friendly and, more recently, ensuring that his menu was flexible to deal with supply chain and price increase issues. He also leaned into the idea of changing it up.

“What I found out about myself after being in a restaurant for years, you tend to get bored making the same dish over and over,” he says. “Changing the menu keeps me on my toes. I tried to change the entire menu and people asked where was the chicken adobo, garlic peanuts, Brussels sprouts, or shrimp in garlic chili oil.”

Chef Ray Eugenio and his signature chicken adobo
Chef Ray Eugenio and his signature chicken adobo. | Photo by Rachel Paraoan for Thrillist

He quickly realized that his adobo dishes—both chicken and pork—needed to be a mainstay. Widely considered the national dish of the Philippines, adobo is a flavorful stock that varies depending where you’re from. Eugenio was raised on the style using palm vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, onions, bay leaf, and black peppercorn. While further south, adobo can be made with coconut milk and a bit more spice. Some recipes add turmeric.

“When people ask me who my favorite chef is, I say my mom,” Eugenio says. “The first thing I could think of was, what did my Filipino friends love that my mom made, and that was adobo. Filipinos love to eat and celebrate with roast pig or lechón, and obviously adobos. So I stick to the one I grew up eating.”

Eugenio says he prefers to break down the chicken since he uses every part for various dishes in the restaurant, but a home cook might want to buy it already cut up “to save a finger and some stress,” he jokes. The leg meat retains the most juices and moisture and thighs, specifically, hold up better during the braising process.

A tip he got from his mom is to sear the meat first, seasoning it with salt and pepper, which will add a depth of flavor to the finished dish. “One of the things that I apply from my career to this dish is, once it’s finished braising, let the meat rest,” he advises. “It needs to be able to relax and suck in all those juices again. I store it in the braising liquid to maximize flavor.”

“The first thing I could think of was, what did my Filipino friends love that my mom made, and that was adobo.”

Another piece of advice is to watch your salt content. Soy sauce, especially the gluten-free version, is very salty and reduction increases it even more. Simple adjustments with chicken stock and vinegar should do the trick. “You want that salty, savory, meat flavor and little acidity from the vinegar,” he says. “I make those adjustments toward the end of the braising process.”

What Eugenio is left with, whether it’s a rubbed spice or marinade, is an incredibly intoxicating smell in the kitchen. He thinks back to holiday parties in the Philippines and can almost hear the music playing. Even after a long week of making adobo, he says it’s a dish he never gets tired of creating and eating.

“I’m not trying to elevate it, modernize it, or take it to the next level,” he says. “For me, it’s more about not losing what the dish is. I spent years putting 15 ingredients on a plate, but it’s funny how much a little salt and pepper can do.”

chicken adobo
Photo by Rachel Paraoan for Thrillist

Chicken Adobo Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 8 pieces cut chicken (2 wings, 2 breast, 2 thighs, 2 legs)
  • 8 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 small yellow onions, julienned
  • 1 cup white distilled vinegar
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 10 whole black peppercorns, crushed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil for browning chicken meat
  • 3 cups water

Directions:
1. Heat about 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large sized pot, on medium-high heat.
2. Lightly salt and pepper chicken pieces and brown on all sides. Set aside.
3. Add onions, cook for another minute.
4. Add garlic, bay leaf, and crushed peppercorns and continue to cook for another minute.
5. Deglaze with water and bring to a simmer. Then add chicken pieces.
6. Add vinegar and soy sauce. Simmer on medium-low heat for 25-30 minutes, covered. Then simmer for another 15 minutes uncovered to allow the braising liquid to reduce slightly.
7. Taste and adjust acidity/saltiness by adding more vinegar as desired. If it is too acidic or salty, adjust by diluting with water to desired balance.
8. Serve with steamed rice.

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Jess Mayhugh is the editorial director of Food & Drink for Thrillist. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.