There are few ingredients that you can keep in your pantry that offer more bang for their buck than dried chilies. A paste of blended dried chilies may start out astringent and bitter, but cooking transforms it into something aromatic, fruity, and complex. Dried chilies are the secret to my hands-off braised lamb shoulder and grab the spotlight in my dried chili harissa (oh yeah, and let's not forget my chili crisp recipe). Dried chilies save the day again in these simple chicken wings, with an assist from tart tamarind paste, smoky palm sugar, and fiery ginger.
Unlike crispy fried chicken wings, these are tender from a gentle roast in the oven, which caramelizes the palm sugar into a sticky, finger-licking glaze. The Kashmiri red chilies I use here are on the mild side, so I pair them with fresh Thai chilies for some extra punch. Luckily, the tamarind and palm sugar help balance the heat, so you’ll want to keep nibbling on wing after wing.
To make the wings, I start by snipping down the length of the dried chilies to remove the seeds before toasting them in a dry sauté pan until they're fragrant and pliable. When their bright red hue has transformed into a rich mahogany, I put the toasted chilies in a blender along with fresh Thai chilies, seedless tamarind paste, ginger, palm sugar, and salt. With some hot water added to soften the chilies and tamarind paste, the mixture easily blends into a smooth purée.
Using the same sauté pan I toasted the dried chilies in, I briefly cook down the chili paste to evaporate some of that added liquid, stirring and scraping with a heat resistant spatula to prevent the mixture from burning. Since I’m not looking to caramelize the sugars or fully develop the flavors in the chilies—there’s time for that in the oven—I just cook the paste until it's thick enough to coat the wings.
In a large bowl, I combine the chicken wings with the chili paste and toss them until they're evenly coated. Meanwhile, I preheat a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. This ensures that the sticky glaze sticks to the wings and not the baking sheet, because it will begin caramelizing as soon as it hits the hot pan. I grease the baking sheet and add the wings, topping each with any remaining chili paste, before sliding them into the oven. As they bake, the chili paste becomes bright red, aromatic, and sweet.
I like to serve the chicken wings with cooling cucumber raitha for sweet relief between spicy bites. These wings offer a zippy change of pace from your standard Buffalo, without much extra work. The dried chilies do all the heavy lifting, bringing layers of flavor to every bite.