These tamarind and chile chicken wings are the best of both worlds, combining and American classic with the flavors of Mexico.
I really cannot remember the first time I had my first taste of tamarindo, but more than likely I was a small child and it had to be in Mexico. One of my favorite food memories is being in Monterrey and walking to the nearest “Depósito,” as they are called in Mexico, and looking through all of the colorful and tasty Mexican treats! It was always so special because they were foods and snacks that were not available in the States. My favorites were tamarindos con chile; they were wrapped like candy with clear cellophane paper with red stripes on the edges… yes, I remember it well. I had my first taste of chicken wings when I moved to New York in 1986 and have been hooked since then! I had been thinking of this recipe for a very long time, to combine two things that I love so much. Finger-licking good!
This is the way I remember tamarindo the most, cracking the shells off, sprinkling some salt on… It makes my mouth water!
For Tamarind Sauce:
3/4pound tamarind pods
2 chiles ancho
2 chiles New Mexico
12 chiles de árbol
1tablespoon brown sugar
1/8cup silver tequila optional
15 chicken drummettes
Chile limon powder (I use Tajin brand — if you can’t find it, use a little Cayenne pepper mixed with lime juice)
Remove the shells and membranes from the tamarinds. Transfer to a saucepan and cover with 3 cups of water. Steep on low heat for a good hour, stirring now and then.
Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Remove the stems from the dried chiles and toast them for a few minutes. Never leave them unattended or they will burn. Add enough water to cover the peppers, lower the heat and steep just until peppers get soft. Remove from heat and set aside.
After and hour of steeping, strain the tamarind with a fine wire mesh strainer into another bowl. Try to press out as much of the pulp as you can. Discard the seeds and transfer the strained pulp with liquid to the blender.
Drain the peppers and add to the blender. Add 2 teaspoons of salt, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, tequila (if using), and blend on high for at least 30 seconds. Transfer to a small saucepan and cook on low/medium heat to thicken sauce slightly, taste for salt. Tamarinds are very tart, so it may require a bit more salt. Strain once again and set aside.
Preheat oven to 450ºF. Line a baking sheet with heavy foil paper. Spread out drummettes and take some paper towels and blot out any excess moisture. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and chile limon powder. Spray with oil to coat evenly. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, turning once, until internal temperature reads 165ºF. Remove from oven.
Position the top rack in oven about 10 inches from broiler. Preheat broiler to high for a few minutes. Divide the tamarind sauce in half. One will be for basting. Baste the chicken and broil for 5 minutes, remove from oven, turn and baste again. Broil for another 5 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl, or plate and toss in reserved other half of sauce. Garnish with cilantro green onions and lime wedges. Yields up to 5 servings for an appetizer.
Note: In larger cities, you may find tamarind pulp in Asian stores, already taken out of the shells. In a lot of wing sauce recipes it calls for butter, I just chose not to add any, but you could add a couple tablespoons when the sauce is cooking if you like. I chose to bake the wings, but you could certainly fry them.
Above, some of the dried peppers you will need for the sauce, ancho, chile de arbol, and chile New Mexico… also pictured are chipotles.