Chicken Adobo: Esteban de los Reyes Style

Bruce Reyes-Chow
5 min readSep 3, 2022
Gpa Reyes looking smooth with his crew in the 30's.

My maternal grandfather, Esteban de los Reyes (Changed to Steve Reyes by US Immigration) was, not only one of the kindest humans I have ever known but also an excellent cook. A bartender by trade, not only could he pour the beverages, but he brought generations of ancestral Filipino love to the kitchen. Although fading, memories of his fried fish and adobo still fill my heart with such sweet memories: hanging out on warm summer Stockton days, drinking and spilling tea with my mom, and knowing that when you walked into the house, there would be food to feed your soul.

Damn, I miss him.

Gpa shows up every time I cook adobo. And thanks to an invitation from my friends over at Food and Faith Podcast for their upcoming book, I am finally writing down what could loosely be called a “recipe.”

Before we get started, if you are here to debate the exact origin of adobo (yes, it comes from 500 years of Spanish occupation) or you want to say there is only one right way to make adobo (Need I remind you that the Philippines is made up of 7,000 islands), hard pass. All you need to know is that adobo has been adapted by the folx from the Philippines and this salty, sour comfort food will continue to evolve and adapt far into the future.

What I share with you is my best recollection of how my grandfather made his. Because each region is different, there are countless other ways to make it. The ingredients vary depending on the region or what may be in the fridge. Some prefer the sour while others like the salty, others make it spicy while others make it sweet. There are those who prefer dry, while others are all about the sauce. At the end of the day, there really is no right or wrong way to make adobo. Well, I am sure there is, but that’s for another day…

My Grandpa’s Adobo Recipe

Serves 2–4

The Ingredients:

Please keep in mind that I never actually measure when I make adobo. Measurements are, at best, estimates of your heart’s desires and memories of love passed down from generation to generation. Yes, I measured this time to give you a guide, but over time, you should experiment and make it your own.

All the things that go into the pan.
Thighs and drumsticks chopped in half.
  • 2–3 pounds chicken (or pork), preferably thighs and drumsticks with bones and skin still present.
    NOTE: You can use white meat, but it tends to get dry. Also, with drumsticks and thighs, I prefer to cut them in half so the marrow can flavor the sauce.
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spice
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2–3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 cup vinegar (Datu Puti preferred)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (Again, Datu Puti)
  • 1/4 cup condense chicken broth
  • and last but not least, 1 entire bulb of fresh garlic, minced. Yes, you heard me right, I said 1 ENTIRE BULB! There is no such thing as “too much” garlic. Fight me.
  • Optional Spice: Add 1/2 cup or to taste of Pinoy Spice (also Datu Puti)

The Cooking:

Please note that it’s really difficult to mess this up, so just go with what feels right and avoid burning down anything but the patriarchy.

  • In a saucepan deep enough that the meat can almost be covered, on medium-high heat, heat up the oils.
  • When the oil is hot, add pickling spice, bay leaves, and garlic. Saute just until the garlic starts turning brown.
  • Add onions and cook until just starting brown on the edges.
  • Add meat and brown it up for about 3–5 minutes.
  • Flip the meat over and add soy sauce, vinegar, broth, and sugar.
  • Stir to mix and bring to a boil.
  • Once it’s boiling, lower the heat to simmer, and cover.
  • Cook for about 30 minutes and return every 10 minutes to stir/turn the chicking, sample the sauce, and adjust to your liking.
  • When it’s done, remove the chicken into a serving bowl and boil the liquid (about 10 minutes) to get that nice thick heavenly adobo juice. Pour over the chicken or just do adobo sauce shots. Kidding, kind of.
    NOTE: I usually do not remove the chicken because I am lazy, but doing this does thicken the sauce faster.
  • Get a bowl, scoop out a paddle of rice for the ancestors, top it with a heaping scoop of adobo and juice, pull up a chair, and enjoy!
Chicken Adobo, Esteban de los Reyes style.
Camera eats first!

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Bruce Reyes-Chow

he/him | working for the common good: writing, speaking, pastoring, coaching, parenting, seeking, observing, loving, amplifying, marching, laughing, napping.