Wine With . . . Chicken Adobo
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
Pickled chicken? It may sound like a strange concept at first, but dishes that involve chicken marinated and cooked in vinegar are indigenous to many places in the world. You might taste Peri-Peri in Africa, for example, or Escabeche in Spain. There’s Chicken Yassa, a West African specialty, and France’s Poulet au Vinaigre (this dish is so endemic in French culture that is the title of a 1985 Claude Chabrol humorous noir film). Chicken Adobo, possibly the most widespread example of the genre, is the unofficial national dish of the Philippines.
Perhaps the universal popularity of the acidic culinary partnership has something to do with vinegar’s antibacterial properties (a definite plus in hot climates). Vinegar can also act as a tenderizer, since acetic acid helps break down tough protein fibers. Of course the fact that vinegar costs very little is also part of the attraction. And oh yes, let’s not forget that these dishes can be very delicious. We’ll confess that part of the, perhaps perverse, appeal for us was the challenge of finding compatible wines to partner with a dish that has vinegar -- an element notoriously inhospitable to wine -- as a main ingredient! Obviously, beer is a no-brainer when it comes to enjoying a dish like Adobo, but we were convinced the right wine could also be immensely pleasurable with it. Were we right? Well, yes and no. But first, the recipe.
We’ve experimented with marinating the chicken for various periods of time, and have found that more is definitely better. Twelve hours of letting the chicken bathe in the marinade produced good results, with two hours being the bare minimum. Twenty-four hours seems just about perfect, resulting in extremely moist, infinitely juicy and flavorful chicken.
Classic adobo calls for a whole chicken, cut in pieces, but we prefer to use chicken thighs, which are very flavorful, inexpensive, and easy to serve and eat. Adobo is traditionally served with plain boiled white rice, whose starchy blandness helps cut the vinegar’s tartness, and also serves as a good vehicle for sopping up the tasty juices.
8-10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cups rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
5-8 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
1-2 jalapeno peppers, finely minced
Place the chicken in a bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. If the chicken isn’t completely covered by the marinade, turn the pieces once or twice. Transfer the chicken in a non-reactive cooking pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30-40 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pot and cook the sauce, uncovered, over medium high heat, until it is reduced by at least half. Return the chicken to the pot. This step may be done in advance, reheating the dish before serving.
t t t
We tried twelve wines with our vinegary Adobo. None made for a perfect match, and a few were disasters, their flavors all but obliterated by the dish’s tart flavors. Some, however, worked just fine -- though to be honest, different palates preferred different wines for different reasons. Looking back, we can identify three types of wine worth considering when making an acidic, vinegar-rich dish like this one.
First, consider rich, fruit-forward, lush wines. These serve as a contrast to the aggressive nature of the vinegar, softening the dish. The two reds we are recommending share this profile.
Second, try a wine with some sweetness. We only tried one with this sort of character (the white Ménage à Trois), and it was a consensus choice. When we make the dish again, we might well open a bottle with even more residual sugar in the wine.
Last, pick a wine that is itself high in acid, so that its appeal will come from its crisp, refreshing character. The idea here is to echo the dish. Both the dry rosé and the Vina Robles “White” share this profile.
The two of us did not agree as to which of these three styles worked best, but any wine that either of us liked fit into one of these categories. One thing that we did completely agree about was that wines with overt oak character failed miserably, the vinegar turning their toasty notes into burnt, bitter char. That’s why an otherwise luscious California Chardonnay and an appealingly rich Australian Cab/ Shiraz blend failed to make the grade.