There are many versions of chicken adobo in Hawaii (you can even get adobo fried rice and adobo saimin). This is the version we love to make at home. It’s fragrant and saucy, and the chicken literally falls off the bone. Don’t forget to cook rice.
Chicken adobo, ready to eat.
This chicken adobo is rich and fragrant with coconut milk and soy sauce. There’s a bright vinegar tang that makes you want more and more!
Chicken Adobo in Hawaii
Chicken adobo is Filipino, but like all ethnic food in Hawaii, it gets mixed and jumbled (in a good and delicious way) and eventually becomes a form of local food.
While Filipino restaurants like Elena’s Filipino Foods in Waipahu makes amazing adobo, you can also eat adobo at many local (non-Filipino) restaurants. There’s adobo fried rice at Eggs ‘n Things (Ala Moana location only), don’t forget to add the sunny-side up eggs.
You can find pork adobo from Hawaiian/Filipino food spots like Fort Ruger Market near Diamond Head. Tip: order a mix bowl so that you have pork adobo and ahi poke and mac salad in the same bowl. Is Hawaii not the most magical place on earth?
There’s even adobo saimin at Shiro’s Saimin Haven in Aiea. Look for saimin #24 on Shiro’s menu. It’s called, Filipino saimin with pork adobo, wun tun, vegetables, and garnishes. It’s not fusion food. It’s just adobo, adapted for Hawaii.
You can find recipes for chicken adobo in nearly every local Hawaii cookbook (often spiral bound, the community/school/neighborhood association cookbooks are the best), and there’s often someone eager to share an adobo recipe. All the recipes are so different! Some call for white vinegar, others for apple cider vinegar. Many have sweet Maui onions, sliced thin. We’d have to live ten lives to try them all.
Step 1 of the recipe below. Coconut oil, garlic, whole black peppercorns, and red pepper flakes.
The “Farm Parties”
We didn’t make chicken adobo at home growing up (our home cooking was mostly Chinese and Vietnamese), but we were lucky to have friends that would bring chicken (or pork) adobo to potluck parties, and invite us to dinner at their home. We had family friends who were farmers. One Laotian family hosted giant “farm parties” (huge open air parties with hundreds of people on the farm) and everyone would bring food.
There’d be tons of Laotian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Filipino food. And of course, lots and lots of rice and insane curries and adobo! And the most dreamy desserts (more on that in a future post). As a kid, I don’t think I fully appreciated or realized how lucky we were to be invited to those dinner gatherings. I wish I had the foresight to document those feasts.
These days I eat adobo at local restaurants around town, but I also make it at home…
Almost done cooking, another 15 minutes to go!
Ligaya Mishan’s Article
Back in October 2019, Ligaya Mishan (who is also a local from Hawaii!) and Angela Dimayuga published a real tasty article in The New York Times. It was called, Angela Dimayuga’s 10 Essential Filipino Recipes. I read the recipe for Coconut Milk Chicken Adobo over and over again. It sounded so amazing. I swear I could smell adobo cooking just reading the recipe.
What attracted me to the recipe was the intensity of coconut. I love coconut and this recipe called for coconut in three forms. Coconut oil, milk, and vinegar! I made it once, and then I made it again and again. It was insane good.
I packed it for my husband’s “home lunch,” and his Filipino colleagues gave thumbs up approval (made my week ^_^)
Left to right: coconut oil, milk, and vinegar
What Is Adobo?
Adobo (with regards to Filipino food) refers to a cooking process/technique. This technique involves meat being braised/slow cooked with vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, bay leaves, and black peppercorns. Everyone uses different ratios (and even different types of vinegars…white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, coconut vinegar, etc). I like my adobo more vinegar-y while a friend prefers to go light on vinegar and heavy on the soy sauce.
What Makes This Recipe Special
Fyi, I’ve included affiliate links below. I may earn a small commission (at no cost to you), if you purchase through the links.
Featuring coconut in not just one, but three forms is what makes this recipe so special. The recipe calls for:
- Coconut milk – Use what you have, but get Chaokoh brand coconut milk if you can. It’s the best (we use it often for Vietnamese cooking).
- Coconut oil – We usually have a jar of this coconut oil at home.
- Coconut vinegar – I only learned about coconut vinegar from this recipe, and now it’s a staple in our home kitchen. I found a bottle at our local Whole Foods, but you can get it for much less at smaller ethnic grocery stores.
Chicken adobo is ready. Rice is ready. Let’s dig in!
I recommend making this recipe as-is (at least the first time!), but there are few adjustments you can make:
- If you don’t have whole black peppercorns, it’s ok (but not ideal) to substitute the same amount of ground black pepper.
- Dimayuga’s original recipe calls for fresh bay leaves, but it’s rare we have that at home so I use dried bay leaves. If you have fresh bay leaves, definitely use them.
- My recipe proportions below makes for a large ratio of sauce/gravy to chicken. This is because I love having extra sauce to spoon it over rice. I also save extra sauce and use it to braise kale and collard greens (I even drizzle the warm sauce over sliced avocado for breakfast). This sauce is magic and it’s nice to have extra around. If you prefer less sauce/more chicken, just increase the number of chicken thighs.
- The three kinds of coconut (oil, milk, vinegar) are non-negotiable. Having all three is what makes this recipe incredible.
- You know how this recipe doesn’t use up the whole can of coconut milk? My friend Bao recently made this recipe and came up with a genius solution: use the extra coconut milk to cook rice! This way both the rice and chicken adobo will be so fragrant…ahhh beautiful!
Chicken Adobo Recipe
Adapted recipe below ^_^
- Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a big pot. Add garlic, whole peppercorns, red pepper flakes, and saute for 5 minutes (until the garlic is golden and everything smells really good).
- Add the chicken (skin-side down) and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the skin is nice and browned.
- Stir in the coconut milk, coconut vinegar, and soy sauce, plus 1 cup water. Add bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Then turn heat down to a simmer. Put the lid on and let simmer for 45 minutes.
- Remove lid. Bring heat back to medium and cook another 15 minutes. The liquid/sauce will get thicker and gravy-like. Keep cooking until it reaches the consistency that you prefer. Chicken should be falling-off-the-bone tender by this point. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Eat with rice ^_^