Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat challenged Randy Zweiban, executive chef and owner of Province, to come up with a recipe using tamarind for this installment of our weekly feature.
Tamarind pods, which come from the tamarind tree—native to the tropics of Africa, but also grown in tropical and near-tropical climates all over the world—are filled with a sweet-and-sour fruit pulp and hard, irregularly shaped seeds when ripe. While the seeds aren't usually consumed, they can be ground to make a starch used in the textile industry or a gelling agent used in jams and jellies. The pulp is used to make chutneys, curries, sauces, jams, drinks, and candies, among other culinary applications—but also as a brass and copper polish and for medicinal purposes. Widely acknowledged to be a natural laxative, tamarind pulp is also believed in some cultures to alleviate sunstroke, help restore sensation in cases of paralysis, and treat leprosy.
Lacking any lepers to cure, however, Randy Zweiban stuck to culinary uses for tamarind. He used a commercial tamarind paste (peeling the pods by hand is a real pain) to make a marinade. "I always like to make a marinade and then take elements from that marinade and reuse them in a sauce," he said. In this case, he just added a little vegetable stock to the original marinade.
Tamarind has some "natural sweetness," but also "that sort of jowl-grabbing acidity . . . I would say it's more tart than sweet," Zweiban said. "We're going to get our acidity in a few different ways," he noted of the marinade. "I like the sherry vinegar to sort of balance the sweetness as well as the spice that we're going to add. And a little bit of lemon juice—I always like to use a little bit of citrus in it and I think that it brings out those tropical notes that are in tamarind."
Heat came from creole mustard, pickled serrano peppers, and ginger, which "gives a nice spicy flavor note to what we're doing, adds a little bit of heat but also rounds out the flavor of the tamarind and the mustard and vinegar together." Molasses added sweetness.
Zweiban thinks that tamarind works well with poultry and leaner cuts of pork; for this recipe he went with chicken, brining and then marinating it, and finally roasting the bird. Before it went into the oven, he crisped it up on the stovetop: "I like using a cast-iron pan for a chicken with skin; you get a really nice, even heating element to it, then you can just take your whole pan, go right into the oven."
Tasting it, he said it was something he'd put on the menu at Province. "It's kind of got that balance of sweetness and sourness and a little bit of back-finish heat. . . . I think the tamarind gives it that really well-rounded acidity."
Michael McDonald of One SixtyBlue, cooking with miso. "He brings a lot of different global flavors into his food," Zweiban said of McDonald, "and I'm really curious to see if he'll do something that's Asian-inspired, or American-inspired, or even Mexican-inspired. I know he cooked down in Mexico for a period of time."Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon
Tamarind- and Spice-Glazed Chicken
½ cup tamarind paste
½ cup molasses
¼ cup sherry vinegar
3 T fresh-squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup creole mustard
2 T roasted garlic
2 pickled serrano peppers
1 T ginger
¼ cup house-made ketchup (or store-bought ketchup with a touch of Worcestershire sauce)
1 T orange zest
¼ cup vegetable stock
½ t kosher salt
½ t freshly toasted and ground black pepper
Dice the serranos and ginger. Add all the ingredients to a food processor; pulse but do not overprocess. Covered and refrigerated, this will keep for about a week.
Half a chicken
Brine the chicken overnight in ½ cup of salt dissolved into 1½ gallons of water. Drain, then marinate (reserve some marinade to use for sauce), forcing under the skin and coating the outside. Cover and let sit at least an hour, ideally several hours or overnight. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil and canola oil in a cast-iron pan, add the chicken, and cook over high heat until skin is crisp. Put the pan in a 450-degree oven and cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, about 15 minutes. Mix the reserved marinade with a little vegetable stock to make a sauce, then serve with the chicken.