Old-timers on this blog know I am a huge adobo fan, and eight years ago I published this recipe for my “best” pork adobo ever. It is still the family favorite, and I still make garapons or large glass jars filled with adobo to age before consuming. It is also almost exactly the same recipe we use at Zubuchon for the slow-cooked adobo we serve in our restaurants.
Last week, at a meeting with our commissary chef, I asked if there was anything else to discuss. The chef said, “was it possible to reconsider how we made our adobo, as during peak periods, he and the cooks had to use up to 35 palayoks to cook the adobo requested by branches…” Yes, we have grown over the years, and this adobo recipe is made in small palayoks, over coals, the same way I imagined our ancestors did it 500 years ago… So at some point, we have to make this “more practical” I suppose. But my answer to our chef was… cook a batch in a palayok over gas flames, and cook another batch in a palayok over charcoal and let me do a blind taste test. If I fail to identify the charcoal version, then perhaps we will consider changing the way we do things. He was thrilled, because honestly, I think he felt all the trouble of schlepping to the lechonan and tending 35 clay pots over hot coals wasn’t worth the trouble.
A week later, without any warning, these two dishes up top were presented just before lunch at the office with this sly smile, like he was counting on the 50/50 chance that I couldn’t pick the right version of adobo. After tasting each dish just 2-3 times (tiny amounts in each bite), I pointed to the dish on the right, and said “that’s cooked over charcoal and more than that, it is superior in texture AND flavor!”… the chef and cooks were amused. Nailed it, I did. And back to the coals for them, though I agree I have to figure out a better way to mass produce something that is increasingly becoming a best seller at our outlets. Customers may not understand the lengths we go to to bring them this little dish of adobo, but we are pretty darned dogged about doing it the old-fashioned way.
And so much about this is just the way we like to do things. We use big chunks of pork belly in good coconut vinegar with local uniodized salt, black peppercorns and bay leaves with our own high-quality lard, we use the remaining coals after pigs are roasted to be energy and resource efficient (though we now sometimes have to add coals to cook all the pots), we make it like our ancestors did, the smoke from the coals definitely infusing flavor while the quality of heat makes the meat tender in ways different from gas stoves, and we have a lot of human interaction with the dish, constantly checking how strong the gurgle of bubbles are, what the color looks like, when the level of liquid is perfect… And we do this whether or not our customers even give a damn. :)