Kitchn Love Letters

An (Incredibly Easy) Filipino Chicken Dinner That Reminds Me of Childhood

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Credit: Melissa Harrison

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. This week, our Kitchn love letter comes from our former food director, Melissa Harrison.

Growing up in Southern California, there were three favorite Filipino dishes that I constantly asked my mom to make. They were, in the following order: pancit and lumpia (or noodles and eggrolls), bibingka (coconut-rice cake), and chicken adobo. My mom loved and relished cooking — especially the food she grew up with in Pampanga — but when it came to my top three requests, she usually (politely!) shot down the first two.

Lumpia, with its assembly line process of building and hand-rolling each eggroll, could easily take half a day. (Because when you made it, in true Filipino fashion, you made a ton.) And bibingka was saved for Christmas and New Year’s. But adobo — or chicken marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic — was totally fair game for weeknight dinner territory. So it often topped my list.

The chicken takes top billing in the dish, but I loved the sauce even more: deeply savory from the soy, and balanced by a tangy kick from the vinegar and garlic. I’d eagerly pour it onto the requisite scoops of fluffy jasmine rice that my mom served it with. If there were leftovers, my dad, brother, and I would keep eagle eyes on the sauce — making sure that no one was hogging more than their fair share. (Crucial for the reheat!)

The Punchy Chicken Marinade You’ll Want to Memorize

Prep-wise, adobo isn’t hard to make. The punchy marinade does all the heavy lifting, although many recipes instruct you to let it sit for a while (in my mom’s case, I remember it being at least a half day). Maybe that’s why now that I’m older — and, as a mom to my own daughter — adobo took a while to make it into my family’s dinner roster. When I’m in my kitchen now, as time-pressed as I am, I pretty much exclusively stick to recipes that come together quickly, with minimal prep and cleanup.

So I steered clear from adobo — until, that is, I bought my first Instant Pot last year. After doing the mandatory “So, what do I cook with this thing?” Google search, this recipe for Instant Pot Chicken Adobo by Filipino cookbook author Marvin Gapultos caught my eye. And I was left with the obvious question: “Why am I not making adobo?”

Still, the first time I glanced through the recipe, I was skeptical. It skips the traditional hours-long marinade and is, instead, a quick drop dinner. Everything goes into the Instant Pot — chicken, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, black pepper — and cooks for 15 minutes. You can toss the chicken under the broiler at the end for extra color (which I recommend!), but that’s it. Lots of flavor, very little prep, and next-to-no cleanup. It checked all my Easy Dinner boxes, and I was impressed. And honestly? The resulting dish is great. (Not as good as mom’s, but still! Very good.)

Credit: Joe Lingeman

A Foolproof & Flavorful Intro to Filipino Cuisine

If you haven’t tried Filipino food yet, adobo is an excellent place to start. It’s a solid intro to traditional Filipino flavors — punchy acidity, the omnipresent garlic-and-soy combo — and it’s pretty foolproof here, especially with the hands-off help of the Instant Pot. The Instant Pot also boosts flavor and texture: the chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender and juicy after just a short jaunt in the pressure cooker.

Once the chicken finishes cooking, you’re left with a good amount of that glorious sauce. As the meat cools separately, I like to leave the top of the Instant Pot off and let the sauce simmer and reduce down slightly. I’ll then drop in some small veggies — like broccoli florets, summer squash, or zucchini — to cook through for a few minutes in the sauce, which gets my family an easy extra side of greens.

Also worth noting? My toddler (who admittedly can be somewhat picky with what she eats, especially when it comes to meat) loves this dish. That was a surprise to me because it’s meat-centric and, as mentioned, the sauce is pretty tangy. But — and maybe this is her quarter-Filipino roots shining through! — she’s into it. She’ll voraciously spoon the sauce over her rice and gobble it up. For me, it’s the latest iteration of a very familiar dinner-table scene — and I know my late mom would be beaming at this.

Like most versions of adobo, I think the leftovers are even better. Just be sure to make extra sauce. You’ll definitely want it.