Zubuchon’s Three-Hour Slow Cooked Adobo — Charcoal or Gas?!?


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. :)


15 Responses

  1. MM: I was so hoping to join my husband’s class reunion in Cebu if only I could visit Zubuchon and have a taste of real Philippine “soul food” which you and your staff take to the extreme. I missed that chance again. Anyway, will keep trying.

  2. My mom is a big fan of palayok + charcoal-cooked food too. We use gas at home and the results are good, but she says the flavors are just deeper the old-fashioned way.

  3. we’re big fans of “slow food”, and there will always be time and space for that.

  4. “…we do this whether or not our customers even give a damn.”

    We DO give a damn, MM. That’s why we keep coming back :)

  5. Maybe a super jumbo made- to- order palayok will lessen the burden of many small claypots to tend?

  6. I was brought up on fried crisp adobo but find the process messy on the kitchen backsplash and painful on my person. Since I have lost the agility to dodge wild fat spatters some time ago, now I simply lay the pork pieces on a cookie sheet and bake them to a crisp.

    Cooking in non-reactive vessel makes sense with adobo and paksew where the principal liquid ingredient is vinegar. Palayok might offer the requisite romantic appeal but citified and Filipino folks abroad with gas or electric stoves can always use cheap enamel ware and never tell the difference. Does not have to be pyroceram, Le Creuset or Staub since there are lots of inexpensive enamelled cast iron pots coming out of China nowadays. But for the hard to please cookware queen who wants his or her name on it, there is this: https://shop.vermicular.com/en/

  7. Hmm… so I know what we are going to have for dinner tonight. Thanks MM for actively posting again, you might not have any idea on how your posting is making my/our day for us here based abroad. I so long forward to it while having my coffee first thing in the morning; the snippet of what’s going on in our country, food and life in general is a joy to the soul.

  8. maybe if it were prepped and half cooked in the stove or oven and finished over coals? That might make it easier to serve and will have some smokiness infused into the adobo?

  9. Could someone make large, rectangular claypots for you? Perhaps each holding the equivalent contents of 3 – 4 normal palayoks.

  10. The way you have brought your passion for good food into the Zubuchon kitchens is so admirable. Keep your standard up.

  11. what if you just put a seasoned palayok or two in the bottom of your industrial cooker/ pressure cooker to impart its flavor…… It’s worth a shot

  12. Happy to have tried this out at the airport. Congrats, this adobo is simply the BEST! One reason why I like going to Cebu is eating Zubuchon food. My $10 will net me 2 meals and a drink. MM, is your menu inspired by the HK foodchain? I like it, there’s always something new. There’s even ice candy, a thowback of days gone by.

  13. Hi Joejj, thanks for dropping by. Our menu is all our own, but perhaps you picked up that the way we display our menu items at the airport is inspired by Cafe de Coral in HK where they add and subtract based on stocks or time of day… you are sharp, it absolutely was inspired by that… :) jestonijohn, thanks for that suggestion, though I would think it’s the smoke from the charcoal flames that flavors the meat more than just the pottery…

  14. Yes, the way the menu is presented. I don’t know if your cooks will like the idea, but what about selling frozen adobo by the kilo, just like lechon? I for one would like to take home a kilo or two.

  15. joe jj, we actually used to sell frozen adobo in 500g portions or so, but I think they stopped that a while back due to low demand at the airport… I think they still carry adobo flakes, however, that seem to do well — essentially our slow-cooked adobo that’s shredded by hand and a bit of lard and other ingredients added in…



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