“I wasn’t even supposed to be at the festival,” says Liz Pisares, about the Filipino American Network’s 4th Adobofest last September in Chicago. She ended up walking away with not only the Judges’ Award but also the People’s Choice award for her chicken adobo. She was already planning to head up to Chicago that weekend when she got a call urging her to participate in the contest. “I prepare chicken adobo for my family every other Sunday anyway. How hard can it be?” she thought.

She certainly made it look easy.

Chicken adobo is a signature dish in Filipino cuisine: a long braise of chicken, garlic, and vinegar that, when done right, transforms its simple ingredients into something special—the chicken silky and tender and the sauce sweet and rich with mellowed vinegar and long-simmered garlic.

Pisares, who has a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and who came to Bloomington eight years ago with her sociologist husband, has become a cook out of necessity. As a child growing up in California, she was spoiled by the good cooking of her Filipino parents and grandmother, and in Chicago, where she used to live, there were great Filipino restaurants. Bloomington has none. If she wanted Filipino food, she was going to have to cook it herself.

Liz Pisares

Liz Pisares. Photo by Nicholas Demille

This is how she does it:

Mang’ Liz’s Chicken Adobo

2 pounds bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs
1 cup white vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
3 bay leaves
1 head garlic, cloves crushed and peeled

1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine all ingredients. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 45 minutes. Transfer pan to the refrigerator and allow the chicken adobo to sit overnight.

2. When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove pan from refrigerator and lift off the solidified fat. Place pan in the oven and reheat the chicken adobo for 25 minutes. After reheating, remove chicken from pan and boil sauce until reduced by half. Plate chicken and sauce and serve. (Chicken may be run, briefly, under the broiler to brown and crisp the skin before serving.)