Mark Bittman's recipe for chicken Adobo says: "Combine the [ingredients] in a covered skillet or saucepan large enough to hold the chicken in one layer". The recipe calls for 3-4 pounds of chicken.

I'm wondering what is the reason that the chicken must fit in one layer. Is it to ensure that the cooking temperature does not vary too much from the bottom of the pot to the top?

I'm also wondering in general, for most recipes that involve stovetop cooking in liquid like braises, stews, chili, arroz con pollo, stroganoff, etc., is there a limit to how deep I should pile it in one pot? when it exceeds a certain depth, should I split it in 2 pots?

Extra info: My biggest cooking pot is 5.5 inches deep, has a 10 inch diameter, and has a fairly thick base. My stovetop has gas burners.

  • just a hint - adding white onion and a tablespoon of sugar will enhance the flavor of adobo greatly.
    – jsanc623
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 17:05

2 Answers 2


If you are simmering, boiling or poaching something, the depth does not matter. As long as your food is completely immersed in liquid, all the liquid has a sufficiently regular temperature due to convection, and it cooks well. So the stews you mention are no problem, you can fill the pot up to the brim.

Braising is a different beast entirely. In braising, you want the liquid to reach to the half of the food or a bit lower. Obviously, you can't do that if you stack your food. When you braise, the heat penetrates into the meat from all sides, but much quicker from below than from the sides (which are only steamed). The upper half still gets done early enough because of heat conducted from the hot bottom half. If you put a piece of meat on top of the first layer, 1) a much larger height (100% of it) is getting heated by steam only, not liquid, 2) the boundary between the two pieces of meat slows down conduction considerably, and 3) the heat which gets transferred bottom-up is much lower, as it is in contact with a piece of meat and not the pan bottom. So, a piece of meat on top will get much later to the desired temperature.

You can get away with it, if you are not after perfection and if you are cooking for long enough for both layers to cook through, but the degree of tenderness will still vary within the stew. So, if you are braising large chunks of meat or vegetables, do a single layer only.

If you are cooking a rice dish, or something with finely diced ingredients, it is again OK to make it deep, even if you are not covering them in liquid. In this case, you'll want to stir them a few times during the cooking. Don't stand there stirring all the time, it's counterproductive. Do it 2-3 times during the whole cook, but do it thoroughly, exchanging the "layers" as good as you can.

  • I agree, when braising you want the liquid to go half way up the side of the meat. Doesn't this utilize two styles of cookery, both moist and dry heat?
    – Chef_Code
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 16:48
  • @Chef_Code not really - the upper part of a braised dish is still moist heat - it's being steamed. It's not exposed to a dry oven heat, its inside a pot with steam - though some folks do perpetuate a myth-conception...
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 19:21
  • I would tend to agree with Ecnerwal here, if pressed for a label, I'd say that both is most heat. But in practice, I've never found the moist/dry heat distinction useful, so I don't care much about it.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 19:36
  • oh that is right, the dripping from the top acts like a constant baste right? Is this why you would want to braise something opposed to just stew.
    – Chef_Code
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 20:54
  • You don't even need to get to the dripping - it's steam up there, even if all the drips go off the sides and miss the meat. The heat transfer method is mostly steam condensing on the meat directly. You could do worse than simply reading what The Joy of Cooking has to say about braising.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 21:20

One layer ensures even cooking. However, I can't say I've never sneaked another portion or two into the braising pot...with no ill effects. The important point is that you have a very moist environment. These kinds of recipes are fairly forgiving. One caveat...filling the pot too much could compromise the ingredients. You mention arroz con pollo. I could see over-stuffing the pot having a negative effect on the quality of your rice. So, in part, the answer depends on the recipe. In general, one layer is fairly useful advice.

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