Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Adobo Lab - Part II: Experiments

Not a complete set - just a baseline.

Not being Heston Blumenthal or Alton Brown, much less Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, there's just no way I can explore all the ins and outs of Adobo like they would, or whatever they are pursuing.  They do that for a living.  I do it to relax.  And their graphics staffs are clearly more awesome than mine (me).

Your basic chicken wing adobo.

That being said - I've put a bit of study into the Adobo thing (books, internet, and a lucky connection to a real live Adobo cook.  Even luckier - who was willing to share.)  And now it was time to try.

This particular project got started with a whole mess o' extra chicken wings.  See, last time we ordered wings from our butcher, they came pre-split.  So we got half as many as we thought.  This year, expecting that, we ordered accordingly.  And got unsplit wings, so had twice as many.  Next year - we're ordering by the pound.  3rd time, and all that.

4 vessels for experimentation
I decided to attack a few of the main elements: 
Vinegar type - cane or rice - and lots or less?
Salt source - soy sauce or regular salt
Marinate - 1-3 hours or overnight
Coconut milk - yes or no
Spicy or not?
Notice - I didn't even get into the sugar thing.

Lots of garlic.  I don't understand skimping on garlic.
Especially when it gets cooked to mellow and sweet.
Each had about 1.25 lb (0.55kg) of chicken wings  (sorry no pork - but this was more of a sauce challenge)

The basic recipe I started with was
Batch A:
Marinate the chicken for 2 hours in
1/4 C rice vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole pepper corns
4 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
and I wanted to make this one of my spicy ones, so I also threw in
2 small crushed del arbol chiles (sort of seranno hot, not Thai birdseye hot.)

Pour this all into a cooking vessel of your choice.  Add a little water so you can snuggle you meat mostly into the liquid.

Bring to a boil.

Return to a simmer for 30 min, flip the wings half way through to make sure they get plenty of sauce time.

At the end, I put the chicken wings under the broiler for about 4 min on each side to crisp up the skin, while I boiled the sauce to reduce it down to a back-of-a-spoon-coating thickness.  You can smash up some of the softened garlic cloves into the sauce.

Dueling Sauces
first round
Cocoanut Milk or Not
Return the chicken wings to the thickened sauce to coat them.

Almost there -
Just one more step!
And then bat away the grabby fingers as you try to get a picture.  Or just give up, go with the flow and eat.


Yeah.  Uh, I have spent MUCH longer cooking food that was nowhere near as good.  And this was great.  Getting the family to taste test this, and the next three versions was really easy.  The crushed chile only added a pleasant background of spiciness.  If you want “hot, spicy” Adobo, you’ll need to add a whole bunch more chile pepper.  This was a nice subtle amount.

To get a little more baseline data, I did another 2hr marinade with coconut milk -
Batch B:
Marinate the chicken for 2 hours in
1/3 C cane vinegar
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole pepper corns
4 cloves garlic smashed and peeled

Follow the same cooking instructions as above

And following one version of coconut milk lore, in the last 10 minutes of simmering I added 
about 1/3 C coconut milk (I eyeballed)

Then I did the broil-flip-broil while I reduced the sauce.

I liked this one better because I LOVE cocoanut milk.  The rest of family could have done without the coconut milk (quote, "Didn't ruin it, I just like it plain better.") but all liked the MORE vinegar version.

So onto the overnight marinades.

Batch C:
Marinate the chicken overnight in
1/3 C cane vinegar
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole pepper corns
4 cloves garlic smashed and peeled

Follow the same cooking instructions as above,
and the broil-flip-broil while I reduced the sauce.

The soy flavor really came through in the overnight marinade, maybe a bit too much.  But the vinegary bite and all the rest of the flavors were amazing.  I can see why this has been captured by enterprising crock-pot cookers.  (To crock-pot adobo recipes, just pop them in for about 6 hours on low - maybe with a little extra liquid to cover everything).  There were no leftovers.  I wish there had been.  So I could have some more.

And this one... I warn you.  I went all crazy and unorthodox, the way I do sometimes.  (Green Curry Crab Chowder, Savory Aebleskivers, Canning jars in a sous vide - OK, that one's becoming normal)
I used some the "suggested additions" to adobo.  The ones where you might end up hearing, "Well that's really not adobo anymore."
I like to live dangerously.  Or eat well.  Or something.

Batch D:
Marinate the chicken overnight in
1/3 C rice vinegar
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole pepper corns
4 cloves garlic smashed and peeled 
1 whole anise “star”
1 crushed medium hot pepper (red-jalapeño hotness)
1/3 C coconut milk

Follow the same cooking instructions as above,
and the broil-flip-broil while I reduced the sauce.

Well, maybe they’re right, the not-quite-Adobo people.  It was more Thai curry-ish. 
Good Thai curry – the kind with the sour bite of tamarind and deep, complex, enviably mysterious flavors, and lusciously creamy. 
That overnight soak in all those spices created something more than what went in.  And for the life of me I could barely taste any heat.  I think the chile-ness simple added to the magic.   It was very good, but not Adobo.

What have I learned?

1) Cook Adobo again and more. 
2) Even my household is already subject to division on the coconut-milk-or-not front.  That didn’t take long.
3) Which vinegar is not as important as how much.  A bit more is better than less, just like with the other spices.
4) Marinate overnight if you have time, but still make Adobo even if you don’t. 
5) Use a little more soy sauce for a short marinade, less, or just salt for overnight.
6) I have no input on the sugar debate, except to say I didn’t miss it.
7) A little dried chile is nice.  And it won’t make things hot – just more interesting. (The vinegar does that.)
8) Use meat with some fat on/in it (chicken thighs, legs and wings, pork, stew beef? or stew lamb?) and never ever “boneless skinless chicken breasts.”  I know enough to know that those cooked in this heedless, low maintenance way would be awful.  (Can you imagine putting BSCB’s under a broiler for 4 min on a side after they were already cooked?!!  (choke, cough, so dry)

Check Out Adobo Lab – Part III: Results  for a nice starter recipe.

and in a bit (but not yet)-

Adobo Lab - Part IV: Hacking the Conclusions  for Adobo-Style Crispy Chicken Wings.
(yes, we have lots of frozen wings - yay! food saver vacuum bags.)

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