Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Adobo Lab - Part I: Research

Sometimes you just have to get out of the way, and let circumstances lead you.  Or maybe I'm just a Food Fashion Victim.

Either way, cooking with vinegar has been nibbling on the edges of my awareness for a few years now.
There were the Escabeche adventures with zucchini.  (The first time I ran across "escabeche" I thought that was the name of the fish I was eating.)  There was the refrigerator pickling (especially with fruit).    There is my on going love of sherry vinegar as a flavor that smooths out and unites the flavor of savory dishes that are missing that certain something.
And then there's 11 different types (is that 12?  Nope, that one's vanilla) of vinegar lurking in my pantry†.

Spanish/Iberian Penninsula cooking has some really intriguing, vinegar heavy, cooking as well.  And it makes sense in a land that has long had urban populations living in places where it just too hot to "refrigerate" food.  Cooking to preserve is the way to go.  Vinegar does a pretty good job - and was cheaper than salt when there was plenty of sun for growing things.

And the sea-faring thing.  Ship's stores in vinegar were handy too.

Which gets us to Adobo.

First, the disambiguation:
1. You can buy "Chipotle Chilies in Adobo (sauce)."
2. You can eat the Filipino dish Adobo.
Adobo is a Spanish term for cooking in vinegar.
So to find it as a cooking term in 2 places where those Spanish sailors spent a bunch of time leaving boot prints, only makes sense.

1. Adobo Sauce in the Mexican incarnation is chile and vinegar sauce often with garlic, sometimes with tomato - and like all other sauces, rife with local variations.  It is primarily spicy.

2. Adobo (the dish) in the Filipino variation is meat stewed in a vinegar based sauce.  From there, many versions - and their associated traditions, abound.

The pithiest examination of Filipino Adobo's wide ranging variation was in this NYT Magazine Article: The Adobo Experiment.  But you needn't read it, all you need is the quote,
"This is Adobo.  Every man an island."
For snake's sake, you are talking about a country made of over 7,000 islands with over 100 languages (To quote Wikipedia, "between 120 and 175... depending on the method of classification.")  So there's going to be more division on the "National Dish of the Philippines" than the French have over cheese. (Wikipedia says 350 - 400 distinct cheese varieties, that reduce down to a paltry 8 groups, Pah!)

The Spanish word Adobo overlaid whatever the indigenous word(s) for the cooking in vinegar were.  And I'm guessing there were a whole bunch of them, so a nice uniting term won over - or just beat up the longer, harder to remember words.  So the technique is definitely older than the Iberian Visitation, but they brought the current name.

Now that's out of the way.  On to the technique.

For all that variety, the dish Adobo has a backbone, or a set of uniting principles, if you will.

*a vinegar base
*bay (laurel) leaves
*black pepper

*bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer
*thicken the sauce

Already there is choice/controversy right at the get go - the vinegar.  Cane juice vinegar is the "most" traditional, with rice vinegar running a close second.
Next - what is the source of the salt?  Plain ol' salt or soy sauce?  Clearly soy sauce is a Chinese influence, but (of course) there are questions about how long soy sauce has been making inroads on Philippine cuisine, and Adobo in particular..
I shall skip over the how much garlic & ground pepper vs. whole peppercorns questions as too mundane to dignify.
Meat/Proteins seems to be more of a regional/what you have question, rather than "fightin' words."  Chicken and pork (including combinations) seem to be the most common, and the addition/use of squid has adherents, along with goat, beef, fish, hard boiled eggs and even tofu.
But the big questions seem to be:
*Spicy or Not?  Does one add chilies, and if so, which ones, dried or fresh and how much?
*Coconut Milk?  (or Coconut Cream?)  To add or not to add?  And again, when and how much?
*Additional Spices?
*Sugar? And if so, what kind? And when?
*Add potatoes, yams or green vegetables?  Other plant parts?
(If you mention fish sauce you are likely to get a, "Well then that's not really Adobo any more.")

And then when you get into cooking techniques - things can get really prickly.

*How long does the meat marinate? (Does one even bother?)
*Sauté/sear the meat first?
*When do you stir the sauce?
*Does one reduce the sauce with the meat, or remove it?
*And if the meat is removed, does it get broiled?  And if so, does one baste? Or fried for crispiness?

As you can see there is so much to quibble over.
For me, there is so much to try.

For actual recipes.... Please see Adobo Lab - Part II: Experiments

†In case you are wondering:

White Balsamic (I know, it still seems pretentious to me too, but I like the light, fruity flavor)
Red Wine
Malt (the fish & chips stuff)

-------- new since December -------
Black Magic (I'm not sure, but it tastes of wine & blackberries - it was a gift, and is tasty)
Honey (Really, mead vinegar.  Quite a pronounced "meady" flavor - begging for summer produce)
Cane Juice [Datu Puti]  (In a pinch this and White Balsamic can stand in for each other)

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