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We say ‘adobo,’ they say ‘adobao’

By CLAUDE TAYAG, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 16, 2021 5:00 am

MADRID, Spain — It’s becoming more and more evident that my quest for the origins of the Pinoy adobo in the land of Don Quixote is nothing but an impossible dream, like a dog chasing its tail.

Vinegar and salt are universally known as natural preservatives. Hence, the prehistoric home cook salt-dried or pickled meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables, and marinated/cooked with vinegar not just for flavoring but prolong the shelf life of any dish as well.

The Filipino adobo as a cooking process is indigenous to our archipelago, dating back to pre-colonial times, as noted by American food historian Raymond Sokolov.

When the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, they encountered a cooking method commonly used by the natives that involved stewing with vinegar. For lack of a better term, perhaps, they simply referred to it as “adobo” due to its seeming similarity to the Spanish adobo. “Parece nuestro adobo” must have been the observation.

Orejas de cerdo adobado al pimenton cocido or boiled paprika-marinated pig’s ears: Just add sukang puti, chopped onions and chili, and voila, it’s our pig’s-ear sisig.

On the other hand, the Spanish adobo, as well as in all Latin American countries colonized by Spain, is a marinade mainly to preserve and enhance the flavor of any meat or fish marinated in it. It’s a mixture of vinegar, pimenton (Spanish paprika), garlic, salt and other herbs and spices, and can vary from country to country, region, or household. Pretty much like the Pinoy adobo.

Casón en adobo, aka bienmesabe or fried marinated dogfish, perhaps one of the most popular Spanish fish tapas: The casón is cut into cubes, marinated with the adobo mix overnight, drained, coated with flour, and deep-fried.

The marinated meat or fish (adobado, pronounced colloquially adobao) still has to be cooked by frying, grilling or roasting. Hence, the complete name of a Spanish dish that has been marinated and cooked is as kilometric as most Spanish names, for example, orejas de cerdo adobado al pimenton cocido (boiled, paprika-marinated pig’s ears).

Lomo de cerdo adobado or pan-fried marinated pork loin

The closest I’ve come is a dish in a Spanish restaurant with the word “adobo” attached to it: cazon en adobo. Originating in the province of Cadiz, Andalusia, the very popular casón, or dogfish (family of shark), is cut into cubes, marinated with the adobo mix overnight, drained, coated with flour, and deep-fried.

This, perhaps, is the only adobo/adobado dish you’ll ever find in most Spanish restaurants in Madrid. I’ve seen, though, in major supermarkets several adobado (marinated) meats with pork loin, pork ribs, pig’s ears, chicken wings, and turkey breast, all ready to be fried or roasted at home.

At the Madrid food event: Chef Claude’s pork belly adobo confit served with an eggplant-tomato-mango-cilantro salsa topped with salted egg

It seems that the adobados or marinated meats don’t take center stage in Spanish restaurants, or, at least, are relegated on the sidelines as a go-to comfort food for the home cook, lest it be compared to the diner’s mother’s adobado, I suppose (wink, wink).

Adobo diplomacy

Having stayed a good 10 days in the Spanish capital, I was invited by our Consul General Adrian Cruz and Tourism Attaché Gerard Panga to do a dinner for some Spanish tourism marketers, media and influencers. It was held at the Filipino restaurant Banana Leaf.

Adobo is one dish that our foreign friends have always asked us to prepare wherever we are posted. Adobo reflects the syncretic nature of Philippine culture, one that welcomes external influences.

No less than Philippine ambassador Philippe Lhuillier welcomed the guests that evening, with the presence of National Artist Kidlat Tahimik and family, who had just opened his landmark exhibition at the Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park a few days prior.

  (Seated, from left) Philippine ambassador to Spain Philippe Lhuillier and National Artist Kidlat Tahimik; (standing) Banana Leaf owner Cesar Crisanto Calangan and ConGen Adrian Cruz

The four-course dinner included pig’s-ear sisig with matching ice-cold San Miguel beer, sinigang na bangus, pork belly adobo confit (con-fee), and halo-halo topped with ube ice cream and leche flan.

The pork adobo I did was exactly the adobo I demonstrated at the Madrid Fusion Manila in 2015.

The dinner was capped with a large goblet of halo-halo, with each guest taking a selfie on how best to mix it without having to spill a single bit of the mixture. It was truly a night of fiesta atmosphere in this little corner of the Philippines in Madrid. Mas diversion te espera! More fun awaits!

 More fun eating adobo and halo-halo in Madrid, Spain

Duck adobo with a French accent

Meanwhile, a week later in the French capital, Paris, I did an adobo cooking demo/interview with Filipina/ French/ Algerian vlogger Leah Fentrouci (Facebook HeyoLeah, dancer). It was arranged by our Chargé d’Affaire Aileen Mendiola-Rau and Minister/Consul Chris Rola McKernan. The venue was at the Filipino restaurant Bobi in the 11th arrondisement, owned and operated by Paris-born Filipina Jessica Gonzales and childhood friend Aurélie Vechot.

Since most of Leah’s followers are French, I suggested doing a four-way duck adobo in the manner the French are familiar with.

From a whole cannette or duckling, the breast and quarter legs are made into adobo confit. The skin is made into chicharron or fritons, while the carcass is boiled with the adobo mix, including its liver and gizzard, to make the adobo sauce. When cooked, the remaining meat still clinging to the bones is pulled, half of which is served as rillette (pronounced “ree-yette,” a rich meat spread), while the other half is fried into duck adobo flakes.

 Four-way duck adobo with a French accent: (from left) Claude, vlogger Leah Fentrouci, Bobi restaurant owners Jessica Gonzales and Aurélie Vechot

Meat confit is a French cooking term where the meat is first marinated or salted overnight, then submerged in oil and cooked at a very low temperature for two to three hours. When cooked, it’s supposed to rest in the oil to make it mellow for a few days before serving. Duck confit is a specialty of southwestern France.

Speaking of which, five days prior to the cooking interview in Paris, I was visiting my good friends Marc and Ofelia Tequi in Limieul, Dordogne. What better place to prepare my cooking demo than this region renowned as the foie gras, duck and truffle capital of France? The Tequis had the first bite, so to speak, and got their thumbs up — “oui” — in approval.

On hindsight, I received this heartwarming feedback through Viber from our ambassador to France, Junever Mahilum-West: “We welcome chef Claude’s visit to Paris to help the Embassy publicize our iconic dish ‘Adobo’ and make it a popular dish here in France. Adobo is one dish that our foreign friends have always asked us to prepare wherever we are posted. Adobo reflects the syncretic nature of Philippine culture, one that welcomes external influences.

“We served chef Claude’s chicken adobo flakes on pandesal during the Philippine Reception marking the 75th anniversary of the Philippines’ engagement in UNESCO. It was a runaway hit with the UNESCO delegates. Parang dinaanan ng kidlat! I myself was not able to taste it. Maybe when he comes and visit us once again, then, I will have the chance to sample his adobo flakes that my UNESCO peers are raving about.”

Addendum from Chargé d’Affaire Aileen Mendiola-Rau: “We won again a seat at UNESCO’s Executive Board for 2021-2025, the highest governing body. We received the 3rd highest vote among all the candidates. The reception was designed to sweep the undecided delegates. Most of the votes were based on the hard work we did during the past year. The chicken adobo diplomacy paid off.”