Hocks (the lower part of the leg) are not inherently the most tender cuts of meat from an animal, goat or otherwise. One of the tricks to cooking one’s way through an entire animal—as I am doing for this “Cooking with kid” series—is learning to use those “lower quality” cuts to yield meals that are every bit as delicious and satisfying as ones made with the fancier pieces. A Filipino-style adobo does just that, yielding a rich garlic-vinegar-pepper-infused meat that is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The preparation is great for the tougher cuts from kids, any cut of an old goat, and also for old hens or even stringy old roosters. Adobo is one of Eric’s favorite methods of preparing meat, and the results are always so tasty I tend to think of it as a complicated meal. But now I know: This is an easy preparation that should be in every omnivore’s repertoire.
All of the steps in the process are quick and easy, though a little advance preparation is required. Here’s my timeline:
Day 1: Transfer the hocks from freezer to refrigerator to defrost.
Day 2: Prepare the marinade (which doubles as the cooking liquid).
Day 3: Start cooking a few hours in advance of eating.
Ideally, the pieces of meat should be matched with a suitably sized pan that allows an efficient volume of marinade to fully submerge the meat. Fortunately, these hocks fit snugly (very snugly, in fact) side-by-side in the bottom of a 9-inch diameter pan (shown above).
I consulted Eric’s family’s cookbook and The Filipino-American Kitchen as I made the marinade. Here’s what I used:
• 1 cup cider vinegar (rice vinegar is a good alternative)
• 4 Tbl soy sauce
• a dozen garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped (Garlic tends to start sprouting by this time of year; I grabbed some Lorz cloves that were storing reasonably well. A little spoutiness is no big deal for this, anyway.)
• a dozen peppercorns, whole
• a few sliced/dried shiitake mushrooms
• 1 quart of water (to bring up the liquid level so it would fully submerge the meat)
The marinade was easy to prepare; the only thing that even required a cutting board was the garlic, and I could easily have just thrown it in whole if I had been feeling lazier. I let the meat marinate in the refrigerator overnight, though it is also acceptable to start the cooking immediately, or alternatively to let it marinate for up to a day or so. Adobo is flexible.
The next morning, I started the meat cooking around 9 a.m. for a lunchtime meal. Most meat-cooking advice I’ve encountered suggests browning the meat before cooking, but Eric said that he usually does not for adobo. It sure is easier to not bother. Browning meat can be a bit of a pain, especially when it has an odd shape (see photo). But if I skipped the browning, would I be sacrificing flavor? I decided to experiment by browning one piece and not the other. It wasn’t a perfect experiment, because I still cooked everything in one pot. If there was a big difference, though I figured we’d be able to detect it by comparing pieces from each respective hock.
I put the pan in which I had marinated the meat on a burner, brought it to a boil, reduced heat to a simmer, and left it covered on low heat at a gentle simmer for the morning. Checking on it periodically is a good idea. About the only way to mess up this dish is to boil off all of the liquid and find a pot of scorched meat chunks with a side of blackened garlic bits. This is unlikely to happen if you’re in the house while it is cooking, as the aroma is so outstanding that it is hard not to be drawn to the pan periodically to admire it and salivate. By late morning, after a couple of hours of simmering and a multitude of “wow, that smells good” comments, the meat had pretty well fallen off the bones.
As noon approached, Eric & I did a few more preparations to turn this into a complete meal. We pulled Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant off of our cookbook shelf and opened it to the recipe for Lumpiang (Fresh Spring Rolls), another specialty of the Philippines. Eric made the wrappers using his crepe-making skills. I grated some storage carrots and kohlrabi, then added some small minced leeks. I also made the simple sweet-sour sauce featuring sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce, thickened with a little corn starch, and flavored with garlic and our fermented hot sauce.
These components, plus some home-fermented kraut, traveled to the table, ready to be assembled onto a plate as desired. One note on serving and eating the adobo: Beware of the whole black peppercorns. It isn’t much fun to crunch down on one that accidentally slipped onto the plate.
So, what about the browning experiment? The fact that the meat fell of the bone made it a little difficult to be certain which meat originated on the browned hock. Still, we’re pretty sure we could identify some browned pieces and some non-browned pieces. The verdict according to Eric: “I don’t know if I can tell a difference between the two.” Our failure to identify which was which through blind tastes tests is an outcome in favor of future kitchen
laziness efficiency: skip the bother of browning and just put the pan on the stove. The results will taste just fine. Hooray for easy adobo.
If it isn’t obvious based on the amount I’ve cooed about adobo throughout this post, this was a very tasty meal. Here’s a conversation sampler:
“Uh huh.” -Eric
The meat was tender and delicious, either on its own or wrapped in a crepe with veggies and sauce. As Eric noted, the spring roll wrappers are a nice vehicle for other ingredients, as they soak up sauce and make a pile of veggies seem more substantial. The flavors are reminiscent of ones that he ate routinely growing up in a family with a long history in the Philippines. Yet there’s a definite Chert Hollow twist: veggies such as kohlrabi are not ones he grew up with; this unusual-to-many-people veggie adds a simultaneously local and exotic flair.
Rice is a traditional accompaniment to adobo, both in Eric’s family and in the Philippines. For leftovers, we served adobo meat on a bed of rice, but even then we managed to break with tradition by using wild rice. We branched out even farther from the norm in a third meal that used up the remaining meat scraps: It was a fridge-clean-out hash of multiple leftovers: wild rice, cowpeas, winter squash, snow peas, lumpiang sauce, and of course the adobo meat and some of its sauce. Sound bizarre? We thought so, too, but that’s what was on hand. And it was delicious, once again reinforcing what we consider to be the most important principle of cooking: Good ingredients in, good food out.