This is a bit of a non-recipe so please fire me a comment if you feel you need any further details with amounts of types of ingredients. I’m on a bit of a tamarind buzz right now – it’s a summer thing. I crave more tart and sharp flavours in warmer weather, and tamarind ticks that box big time, plus it has that fruity element that gives depth to so many dishes. If I’m in a hurry and making something like pad Thai or a soup where the texture of tamarind isn’t required, I often use tamarind paste/sauce, but in this dish you really want to start from scratch with a sticky block of the stuff, as you get more of the dark, unctuous quality coming through. If you’re new to tamarind, look for it in an Asian grocers’. You’ll find the smooth paste in a pottle, plus blocks of the tamarind flesh either with or without seeds. No point really paying for seeds which you’re going to biff, so buy the seedless blocks. To prep it for use, simply soften the required amount of tamarind (cut off the block) in hot water for a few minutes, then strain out any tough bits of skin, but really push it through the sieve as you want a nice thick paste.
You could make this chicken dish by using the saucy ingredients as a marinade the night before cooking, but I was cooking on a whim, the ‘marinating’ bit happened during the cooking – but actually I like how this worked because I was able to then fry off the lemongrass, garlic and chilli first which gave a great flavor to the dish.
I started with six free-range chicken thighs. Brown your chicken thighs in a hot pan with a touch of oil and arrange in a roasting dish. In the same pan you browned the chicken, sautee 4-5 cloves garlic, 1 bird’s eye chilli chopped finely, 1 stalk lemongrass bruised and chopped extremely finely, and a 1-inch piece of ginger peeled and chopped finely. Once sizzling, add the paste squeezed from about 2 Tbsp tamarind and about 1 Tbsp grated palm sugar. Give that a stir then add about a cup of good-quality chicken stock. I’ve been loving the Simon Gault range of real stocks lately. Stir for a bit then pour this sauce over the chicken in the roasting dish and pop in the oven to bake for around 45 minutes, until the thighs are cooked through, with the juices running clear. Take out and baste using the sauce in the dish a few times during cooking. Once the chicken is cooked, turn the heat up for the last 6-7 minutes to about 220 to get a nice crisp and sticky topping on the thighs. Scatter over some spring onion, or herbs like coriander or mint, and serve with steamed jasmine rice.
I made a quick cucumber pickle to serve with the chicken. Lebanese cucumbers work best for this. Slice them in half lengthways then scoop out the seeds and slice along the length, making pretty little thin moon shapes. Toss in a bowl with a little rice vinegar, some Korean red pepper flakes (highly addictive stuff, but if you don’t have it, just use fresh red chilli or red chilli flakes), and a splash of fish sauce. Let the flavours settle and meld together for 10 minutes before serving. This quick pickle can be adapted however you like – add toasted sesame seeds and sesame oil to make it more Japanese/Korean-like; add a bit of hoisin or some palm sugar for a sweet note. You could even try adding a bit of belacan fried off first, or a smoky sambal- yumbo!