A Marinade To Beat All Others: Adobo

When it comes to Florida cuisine, the conversation starts with Norman Van Aken. The chef and author was among the first to realize the tropical food goldmine of the region, and his restaurants and cookbooks have had a huge influence.

Now the chef/owner of Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando and Director of Restaurants at Miami Culinary Institute, Van Aken is hard at work on his next book, My Key West Kitchen (Kyle Books), due out in fall 2012. Each week, he contributes to Food Republic with his "Word On Food." He's on Twitter: @normanvanaken.

See the recipe: Norman Van Aken's African Adobo Rubbed Tuna

Writing this column brings me to some words that have a kind of aural personality. Latin-Caribbean cuisine abounds in them; yuca, mofongo, fufú, boniato and the ultra-sensual guanabana are all legal prey to my pursuits here at Food Republic. Today's bag holds the word adobo. Sounded out it as someone was simply doing a short drum beat on your desk. Ba-bump-bum. Try it. A-dough-bo. Ba-bump-bum.

Adobo means spice rub or marinade, and the particular recipe we include was introduced by African slaves brought to Bahía in Brazil in the 17th century. Edit: Here's a rock solid basic adobo sauce recipe. But the actually birthplace is of some confusion. There is little arguing that the Filipino's have claimed as their national dish. But it is adobo's flexibility that allow this. When this transoceanic traveler met the foodstuffs of Asia soy found its way into the party. In Spanish cuisine the flavors were informed by olive oil, vinegar, garlic, various herbs and spices. When it got to Mexico, (the New World) chilies climbed aboard and that is how I most commonly use adobos. But a Caribbean adobo is not an 'invention' either. Though its character there is mostly a dry one.

The one I make most often is a wet kind of paste. It makes for a messy albeit fun way of cooking! I rub it on raw chicken, steaks, veal chops and even some of the more meaty fish and most often sear it to push the flavors deeply into the food and then finish it by roasting where the heat is more in a 'surrounding' mode which helps prevent the adobo from getting bitter which it could if said searing where prolonged.

Spice rubs have become a big deal and many home cooks and backyard grill enthusiasts boast about their secret rubs and spice mix elixirs. Want to trump the boys (and girls) in your hood? Make Adobos. Sizzle them. Don't tell them how easy it is. Ba-bump-bum.

I'm Norman Van Aken and that's my Word on Food.