Adobo is the quintessential Filipino comfort food and is widely regarded as the national dish of the Philippines. When I had just started cooking and flopped around in a kitchen equipped with nothing but a crusty pot and a butter knife from Ikea, the first thing I made was adobo, sans recipe. It didn’t require much in the way of ingredients or equipment. Just throw everything in a pot and simmer. Not to be confused with Mexican adobo (a seasoning paste made of chiles, herbs, and spices), Filipino adobo refers to any seafood, meats, or vegetables braised in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic. The most common types of adobo in my household were chicken, pork, squid, and water spinach (also known as kangkong).
Browsing through the recipes for this dish in Memories of Philippine Kitchens, the very first thing I noticed was the use of coconut milk to enrich the braising liquid. I don’t ever recall having adobo enriched with coconut milk, but it sounds like a good idea for leaner meats such as chicken breasts. The next thing I noticed was the recipe for beef short ribs adobo. I confess to never having beef adobo and thought it was quite unusual, but the use of short ribs made perfect sense. Braising slowly is arguably the best cooking method for short ribs, with the hot and fast method of grilling Korean kalbi a close runner-up. This is the first recipe I tried from the book, adapted to the way I learned to prepare adobo, of course.
Beef Short Ribs Adobo
serves 4 to 6
3 pounds beef short ribs
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 cups water
1 cup cane vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
3 bay leaves
- It shouldn’t matter if your short ribs are flanken (cut across the bone, as in the pictures), or English-style (cut parallel to the bone).
- The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground pepper, but I’d rather double the amount and use whole berries to keep the broth from getting too gritty.
- Replace the 2 cups of water with either 2 cups of chicken stock or 1 cup of chicken stock and 1 cup of coconut milk as suggested in the original recipe. I used water since there’s no chicken stock to be found in the fridge and I wanted the delicate broth produced from braising the short ribs to come through.
- Experiment with different types of vinegar such as sherry, apple cider, or rice. Try to get a bottle of Datu Puti brand cane vinegar if you have access to a Filipino or Southeast Asian grocery. This is the only type of vinegar our household ever used for adobo.
Pat the short ribs dry with paper towels and generously season with salt. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Heat a heavy pot over medium high heat. Add the oil and brown all sides of the short ribs.
Transfer the ribs to a plate and pour off the excess fat. Add the rest of the ingredients and scrape the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon to deglaze. Return the ribs to the pot, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover the pot with a tight lid and simmer for 2 hours, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.
This recipe is best made ahead and served the next day. The meat will develop more flavor by soaking in the seasonings and reabsorbing moisture lost during the long cooking process. Remember to reheat gently and serve with steamed white rice. Also try broiling the meat until slightly charred and reducing the braising liquid to a slightly thicker consistency. Remember to pick out the garlic cloves and smear on a piece of freshly baked pan de sal.