Chicken and coconut milk adobo

Chicken and coconut milk adobo

Adobong manok sa gata

7000 Islands
Jana Liebenstein

Compared to Italian, French or even Thai cookbooks, there are only a handful written about the food of the Philippines and even fewer that document the country’s culinary history. Part of this small group is Memories of Philippine Kitchens written by Filipino-Americans Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan. Their book has provided me with boundless information and inspiration, including a recipe for adobo with coconut milk.

Coconut milk melds magically with vinegar, tempering the acid base of adobo and adding a creamy richness. This loose adaptation of Besa and Dorotan’s recipe is also derived from other versions I have enjoyed, which add turmeric for its yellow tint or ginger for its zing.


Quantity Ingredient
170ml coconut or rice vinegar
400ml coconut milk
60ml soy sauce
6 garlic cloves, smashed
3cm piece turmeric or ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3 bay leaves
3 red bird’s-eye chillies, plus extra to serve, (optional)
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 whole chicken, jointed into 8 pieces with bone in
steamed rice, to serve


  1. In a large non-reactive bowl, combine the vinegar, coconut milk, soy sauce, garlic, turmeric, bay leaves, chillies and pepper. Add the chicken and turn to coat, then cover with plastic wrap and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  2. Transfer the chicken mixture to a large, deep saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low–medium and cook for 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a bowl and cover to keep warm. Increase the heat to medium–high and cook the mixture for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and reduced. Discard the turmeric, bay leaves and chillies.
  3. Return the chicken to the pan and warm through. Transfer to a serving bowl, scatter with extra chillies, if using, and serve with steamed rice.

What is it?

  • Gata is the generic term for liquid extracted from mature coconut meat (niyog) and refers to coconut cream and milk. In the Philippines, it is still made the traditional way — coconut meat is finely grated (often with a machine) and a little hot water is added, then the mixture is squeezed for the thicker coconut cream or ‘first pressing’. This process is repeated to extract the thinner coconut milk or ‘second pressing’.
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