a variation on pork adobo

The weather is finally going to get cooler this week. Maybe by this weekend, it’ll actually even feel like fall. And as we all know, fall is the season of comfort food and cookies. And decorative gourds.

One of the comfort foods that has worked its way into my regular rotation is pork adobo. It’s now one of A’s favorite meals.

Adobo is a Filipino cooking method in which meat or seafood is marinated and cooked in a vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic. It sounds simple, but the result is complex and delicious. It’s tangy, rich, sweet, salty,  and a perfect food for when the weather is turning colder. It’s one of those things, like chili or mole or curry — every family (or even individual) has their own version. I like to add coconut milk for a creamy element.

You can use this recipe with chicken or beef or probably whatever you want. It’ll change the cooking times a bit, but the method is basically going to be the same.

Pork Adobo Variant, adapted from The Woks of Life

  • (1 generous tablespoon of fish sauce for the optional first step)
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3-5 pounds of pork butt, preferably with a nice amount of white fat, trimmed and cut into 1-2 inch chunks/cubes. Bonus if your cut came with some bones. Make sure to throw those in with everything else.
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable or coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup of light soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup of cane vinegar (or apple cider vinegar) [I like a slightly higher vinegar:soy sauce ratio because of the tang, but if you don’t, you can decrease this to a 1:1.]
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 14oz can of coconut milk (I like Aroy-D coconut milk the best — it has a great creamy texture and wonderful coconut flavor)
  • 1 cup water
  • Sliced scallions for garnish

I took the pic with these super crispy dry bay leaves, but I found some better ones to actually cook with. They didn’t get magically reconstituted between this pic and the next…

Optional first step: Toss the cubed pork butt with garlic cloves and fish sauce. If I have ginger at home, I’ll throw in a few bruised pieces of ginger as well. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. I’ve done it for up to 5 hours or so without any issues.

Actual first step: In a cast iron dutch oven (or other heavy-bottomed pan in which you can get a good sear), add oil and then sear pork in batches until browned on all sides. Smaller batches are better than larger ones — you don’t want the pork to steam. You want to get that delicious brown fond at the bottom of the pan. When you’re tossing the pork in the pan, make sure to set the garlic and ginger pieces to the side.

Remove pork and set aside. Add the chopped onion and reserved garlic and ginger. Pour in a small splash of water. Scrape up the fond, and then cook until the onion is translucent and the garlic and ginger are fragrant.

Add the pork back to the pot. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaves, peppercorns, and sugar. Pour in the coconut milk, then fill the can halfway with water and add that to the pot too. Stir everything together to make sure that the pork is mostly submerged. Bring the mix to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes to an hour. (The timing is pretty forgiving. Pork butt is pretty tender to begin with, what with all that marbling, and the salt/vinegar mixture will result in some of the most tender pork ever.)


See how much better these bay leaves are? Also, this is another one of those things that tastes much better than it photographs.

Uncover. Remove the pork and set aside. Turn up the heat a bit and reduce the sauce until it is thick and luscious. Taste and season — you will most likely not need more salt. If it’s a little too salty, you can a little more water. Add the pork back and mix around, making sure it all gets nice and covered.

Serve over rice — I like jasmine rice or brown rice with peas. Garnish with scallions.


[Sidenote: If you don’t want peppercorns floating around because you’re worried you’ll serve/eat them, you can crush the peppercorns coarsely. Or tie them up with the bay in a little sachet or in a tea ball that you can fish out when you’re done cooking.]