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Adobo is a Filipino dish that’s not hard to love. And with so many variations, depending on the components used, as long as the main ingredients of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves are present, it all tastes theoretically fine.
One version though of adobo is recently getting some heat and it’s not the good kind. It has garnered all kinds of attention in the international arena no less, all thanks to Uncle Roger.
Uncle Roger is the exaggerated, recipe video-complaining, middle-aged stereotypical Asian uncle character of Malaysian stand-up and comedian Nigel Ng. He’s been known to roast popular Western food personalities like Jamie Oliver for his Egg Fried Rice recipe and Gordon Ramsay who even coolly called him out in one of his recipe videos. Now, he’s placed the hot seat under American chef and television personality, Geoffrey Zakarian and his rendition of our beloved braised Filipino dish.
In the YT video titled “Uncle Roger HATE FOOD NETWORK ADOBO,” Nigel Ng’s famous persona angrily dissects the recipe step-by-step. The first seconds of the video already gave a taste of what kind of adobo it would be—very unusual.
As Uncle Roger further explains to what we Filipinos also already know, [adobo] is a dish that has many variations. Everybody makes it in a different way—so it’s hard to mess up (we cleaned up the translation for this!). Unfortunately, this might not apply to this recipe, according to those who watched it.
Zakarian starts his adobo by marinating chicken thighs with the usual ingredients: less-sodium soy sauce, a bit of vinegar, brown sugar, and ground black pepper. While the ratios of each ingredient used are questionable, they are forgivable since overnight marination is involved. What is surprising though is the new ingredient he brought into the mix: habanero peppers. As Uncle Roger points out, habanero isn’t an indigenous ingredient in the Philippines. If heat is required, we usually put in our usual heating agents like siling labuyo or bird’s eye chili. We’ll let it pass as well since siling labuyo might not have been available during their shooting time.
Next, Zakarian proceeds with searing the chicken pieces in a fancy Dutch oven after separating the marinade and the protein. While we’re entertained by Uncle Roger’s irritation with the cooking vehicle used, we don’t think it’s such a mistake to cook it in a Le Creuset. To each his own with this one. May it be a cheap kawali or a 300 USD pot, as long as you don’t burn the food, we’re good.
After searing the chicken pieces and removing them from the pot, Zakarian continues by sautéing a good amount of onion (onions in adobo? Hhhmm…), and one of the biggest sins made in this recipe: putting in a few slivers of garlic. We’re siding with Uncle Roger on this one. Garlic adds the much-needed nuttiness and depth to the flavors of adobo, much like what tamarind and other souring agents bring to sinigang or ginger and lemongrass to tinola. Uncle Roger also speaks the truth for the entire continent: for Asian cooking, garlic is like money—it’s never enough. Lol also on comparing garlic to truffle. With increasing prices right now though, it may seem that way. But that’s another issue.
As Zakarian continues he commits another cooking horror by putting in too much water after deglazing the pan. This part is just downright sad and embarrassing. No one wants watery adobo. Give us the thick, dark-colored thick sauce or even the rendered yet flavorful oils after a good long braising! Mapapalo ka ng lola mo if you do this to her adobo.
By the time Chef Geoffrey is plating his cooked dish, you’d think nothing else can go wrong and it’s smooth sailing from here on out since it kind of looks like any other adobo. But no. He garnishes it with a generous sprinkling of parsley. Ano ba yan. This isn’t pasta or French dish. Bring in fried garlic bits or even slices of hard-boiled egg. Our Filipino ancestors would flip from their graves. To add insult to injury, he serves it with a lemon wedge. Hay. Adobo is supposed to be rich and deep-tasting not herby with a lemony twist. We feel sorry for the hosts who had to consume on cam this watered-down, parsley-loaded, lemon spritzed Chicken Adobo.
In his defense, Zakarian is very much entitled to create his own take of the dish. But, as much as we want to give this Americanized version a chance, it goes against what we traditionally know and love about adobo. Plus, he made the dish during a time when most Americans were still trying to appreciate Filipino cuisine so throwing in the word traditional to describe it would seem that it applies to how it was made as well. Suffice it to say, it didn’t sit well with adobo purists who’ve seen the original upload. And now with Uncle Roger bringing it back to the spotlight, it’s blowing up to a much bigger audience, with almost more than 1.3 million views and counting.
If you feel like Geoffrey Zakarian’s Chicken Adobo is worth the try then please enjoy. On our end, we’ll have to pass on this one have the classic adobo any day.
What do you think of this adobo? Let us know!