Chef's Blog

November 23, 2016

Adobo…Seasoning, Sauce, Cooking Method?

from Chef Allan Gazaway

Within the culinary lexicon we find terms like ‘adobo’ carry a variety of meanings depending on your point of reference. Different meanings are influenced by origin, usage and history. ‘Adobo’ is a term that, given the audience and/or Chef, can mean entirely different things.

While we often associate adobo with the Spanish methods of food preservation and seasoning, it has a completely different connotation when you find yourself in Indonesia. Or the Caribbean for that matter. By definition ‘adobo’ or ‘adobar’ is, “the immersion of raw food in a stock or sauce composed of paprika, oregano, salt, garlic, and vinegar to preserve of enhance its flavor.” Latin styles of adobo, by contrast, refer to basic everyday seasoning blends.

When we look back in history, the Spanish form of adobo was used for preservation at a time when refrigeration did not in exist. To that end, most slaughtering occurred during winter months. During the warmer months, this form of adobo processing and seasoning was used as a preservation technique. The addition of paprika, while not fully understood at the time, provided a preserving antioxidant. Similarly, Indian cultures used turmeric for much of the same reasons. So while these adobos were originally used as a preservative, the advent of refrigeration pushed them into the category of seasonings over time.

The variations of adobo are endless, but I will outline a few here:

• Mexican adobo primarily refers to marinated dishes, like chipotles in adobo. They commonly include cumin and oregano; sometimes citrus juices and brown sugar are added. This style of adobo mirrors the Minor’s Red Chile Adobo Flavor Concentrate.

• Puerto Rican and Cuban adobos have evolved into a seasoned salt, more or less, that is typically applied to meats prior to grilling.

Then there are the rubs. Wet rubs commonly are associated with mojo-style marinades, whereas dry rubs, which are similar, do not have the citrus juices and vinegars.

On the other side of the coin, there’s the various South American styles of adobo, which mirror those seen in the Philippines and Indonesia. This kind of adobo refers more to a cooking method than a preservation technique or seasoning, while still maintaining some common ingredients.

• In Peru we see dishes where the adobo is cooked in a clay pot and is served with bread for dipping.

• The Filipino adobo is an entirely separate method of preparing food and is distinct from the Spanish marinades. In Filipino cuisine, adobo refers to a common cooking style. It’s a process that involves meat, seafood or vegetables marinated in vinegar, soy sauce and garlic. The proteins are browned in oil, and then simmered in the marinade.

Once again, preservation of meats played a big part in the historical use of vinegars and salts. While we can create a general recipe for a Spanish adobo, we find the Filipino definitions pertain more to cooking styles than the ingredients themselves. As a result you can often find completely different recipes for adobo generating from the same household.

When we, as Chefs, seek to understand the cuisines of the world, we have to keep an open mind and understand that the variety of available ingredients, history, and family styles have a bearing on the nomenclature. Adobo is certainly a term that comes with a long list of variations. Depending on who we are talking with, it can have a myriad of meanings.

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