Grilled Chicken Thighs with Tamarind Glaze
Summer days, Summer glaze
Welcome to issue #12 of Susanality, a free weekly newsletter. Thanks for being here! If you’re loving this newsletter, please consider a paid subscription. Having your support would mean a lot to me, as I continue to work hard to bring you fresh content on a weekly basis. Additional posts and recipes will be going out to paid subscribers at least twice a month, and more features are coming soon!
Every now and then I like to introduce you to an ingredient I love even though it may not be something you’ll always find in your local supermarket. This week’s recipe is for a delicious tamarind glaze that goes well with almost anything you can grill. I have cooked with tamarind before, because I was always intrigued by its very tart flavor and rich brown color. Balanced by sweet flavors, it makes a nuanced and tasty sauce that browns nicely on the grill.
In my days developing recipes for magazines, an editor might say, “No, you can't use that, because it can't be bought in the supermarket”. But it’s hard to generalize about supermarkets, because some are better, or bigger, than others. And their product selection reflects the demographic makeup of the community they serve. You’ll be surprised at some of the less likely things your supermarket carries.
I have found that the recipe-following public (that’s you) are way more adventurous than my former editors gave you credit for. Perhaps this has evolved over time, as exposure to food from other countries and other cultures has become more common. We taste something in a restaurant and want to go home and cook something similar. In the before times, we traveled, sometimes picking up a new pantry ingredient as a souvenir, so you could make at home what you tasted abroad. When I travel(ed) I always visit markets as early on my trip as possible so I can get a sense not only of the food, but of the people in a particular place. And to get snacks for my hotel room!
There is very little you can't order online these days with a few keystrokes on the computer, so I have a question for you. Do you? Are you willing to think ahead and order something either from a small specialty grocer or from that big online superstore that we love to hate and hate to love? During the pandemic, I ordered more ingredients online than usual, especially when things like flour were in short supply.
I really believe in a well-stocked pantry. Having a full refrigerator door, which is where a lot of the flavorful “pantry” ingredients I like to use live, enables me to find inspiration that take my spontaneous cooking and recipe development in new and unexpected directions.
I have spent most of my time this past year and half (!) in eastern Long Island. On my occasional trips to NYC I almost always stop at Kalustyan’s to stock up on hard-to-find or just high-quality pantry items I like having in the house. Some of my favorite purchases from there are dried chilies of every kind, dry porcini mushrooms, tahini, chili crisp (a variety!), nuts, dried fruits, good black tea, freekeh, olives, feta, black garlic molasses, etc. I have placed a few orders for shipping, especially earlier in the pandemic when we were really staying home. When I need something fast though, I order from Amazon, because you can get anything you need, and quickly.
Back to tamarind! It is used in the cooking of many regions, particularly popular in India and Thailand. It’s a key ingredient in Pad Thai, and tamarind chutney is a ubiquitous condiment served in Indian restaurants. It’s also the predominant flavor in Worcestershire sauce, so you have probably tasted it before, whether you knew it or not. I decided to get more perspective on tamarind from my friend Maya Kaimal (who I mentioned a few weeks ago right here) who is an expert Indian cook and has an amazing product line which you can find in your local supermarket. Her Spicy Ketchup has become a favorite in our house.
Here’s what Maya had to say about tamarind, “There's so much to say! It's the lemon of South India! Souring agents are really important in Indian cooking, and there are many of them, like dried unripe mango, dried pomegranate, a dried fruit called kokum, but tamarind is the go-to sour ingredient for South Indians. It's really common in fish curries, it's a key ingredient in the famous lentil-veg stew called Sambar, and it's often deliciously paired with eggplant. It also makes a great tangy chutney with brown sugar and cumin seed. I love the fruitiness of tamarind--it's such a complex tangy flavor.”
Maya’s fave brand is here. I have found a brand of paste that is organic, and quite good, and way more convenient to use at home than the block type that Maya prefers. I encourage you to try this maybe-new-to-you ingredient in paste form at first. If you like tart, lemony flavors you will like this. If you really like it and are feeling adventurous, graduate to the block.
I had already tried my tamarind glaze on grilled eggplant, so I was happy to hear that it is an authentic pairing. It is very good on chicken, which is this week’s recipe, but you can also use it on skewered shrimp, or brush it on salmon after it is grilled. You need to use a low heat and keep a close eye on whatever you are grilling to make sure it doesn’t burn due to the sugars in the sauce that come from the ketchup and honey. I tried it on baby back ribs too, but they were hard to keep from burning, maybe because of the higher fat content of the pork. Try it on pork tenderloin instead! Once you make a batch of glaze, you can keep it in the fridge for a few weeks so you can try it on other things.
I hope you’ve been enjoying Susanality. Having this direct connection to my readers gives me the unique opportunity to ask you questions so I know what you want more of, and less of. So, tell me, do you seek out less common ingredients so you can make something new and interesting? Or do you just want to cook on the fly with what’s readily available? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. See you next week!
PS - I wanted to remind you that all of the recipes in my newsletters live permanently here. You can also scroll through public recipes on my site or keep up with me on Instagram. Or better yet, you can support me by ordering my book, Open Kitchen.
Chicken Thighs with Tamarind Glazed
You can also use chicken breasts here but watch carefully and cook for a shorter time to avoid drying them out.
¼ cup tamarind paste or puree
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons freshly grated ginger (grated on a microplane)
2 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
¼ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon honey
3 to 4 10-inch metal skewers
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, (approximately 2 lbs.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine tamarind paste, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chili garlic sauce, ketchup, and honey in a small bowl, and stir well with a fork. Set aside.
Trim excess fat from the chicken thighs. Cut each thigh into 3 equal pieces. Season liberally with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Thread the pieces onto skewers.
Grill over medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes. Turn the skewers and cook for 6 more minutes, then brush with the glaze. Cook for an additional 6-8 minutes, turning and brushing with glaze every 2 minutes.
To use on eggplant: Cut the eggplant in half through the stem, and lightly score the flesh. Brush with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill cut side down over a medium-high heat until well-browned, about 4 minutes (but maybe longer depending on heat). Turn over, and brush the cut sides generously with glaze. Continue cooking until the eggplants are bubbling and collapsing a little. Transfer to a platter and top with fresh herbs.