Grilled Tamarind Chicken Thighs

Grilled chicken thighs marinated in a bold mixture inspired by Filipino sinigang.

grilled tamarind chicken thighs

Andrew Janjigian

Why It Works

  • Incorporating dried spices as well as their fresh counterparts intensifies the flavor of the marinade.
  • Tamarind paste, a highly acidic ingredient, acts as both a flavoring agent and a tenderizer when applied to the chicken.
  • Starting the chicken skin side up on the grill and finishing skin side down yields crispier skin.

I grew up eating sinigang, a savory Filipino stew known for its signature sour broth. That specific flavor profile was the inspiration for this recipe: chicken thighs marinated in a bold blend of onion, tomato, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, chile, and tamarind and then cooked on a grill. The result is succulent chicken with a crisp skin, juicy interior, and a tart, umami-packed kick.  

To create an ultra-potent marinade to deeply flavor the chicken, I turn to scallions, onion, and onion powder, for a pronounced allium punch, and then tomato paste, which provides a savory boost without the excess liquid chopped fresh tomatoes would provide. As with the onion, I also add garlic and ginger in both their raw and powdered forms, and pungent fish sauce to enliven everything with salt. Then I add the chile component: Sinigang typically uses siling mahaba, a Filipino pepper also referred to as green finger chile that has a moderate heat leveland can be found in Filipino or Asian supermarkets. If you can't find siling mahaba, a jalapeño pepper works just as well.

However, despite all of these flavorful ingredients, the true star of this marinade is the tamarind. A common ingredient in Asian and Central and South American cuisines, it's available in several different forms: compressed blocks, bottled concentrates, and powders. This recipe uses tamarind concentrate (also labeled paste), which is a dark, syrupy, and very tart liquid. I prefer to use Tamicon for its smooth consistency and moderate tartness. However, use what you can find, as long as it’s smooth, pourable, and free of seeds.  

To make the marinade, I blitz everything in a food processor or blender until the mixture is mostly smooth but still a little thick and grainy. Since it's a rather strongly flavored marinade, I only marinate the chicken thigh pieces anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, and once I've got my grill hot and ready, I transfer them straight to the grill grates—skin-side up, clingy marinade and all—to ensure that the flavor bakes onto the skin as it cooks. Once they're mostly cooked through on one side, I flip them skin-side down to get a crispier finish.

These richly flavored chicken thighs pair well with all kind of sides you'd expect to find at a cookout, but I like it best when it's served with heaps of freshly-cooked white rice.

Recipe Facts

Prep: 40 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Total: 70 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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Ingredients

  • 1 small yellow onion (about 5 ounces; 140g), roughly chopped 
  • 3 scallions (45g), ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths 
  • 1 siling mahaba chile, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped (see note)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • One 2-inch knob fresh ginger (about 1 ounce; 30g), peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup (70g) tamarind paste, preferably Tamicon (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons (6g) garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons (6g) onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons (6g) ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons (8g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 4 pounds; 1.8kg)
  • Neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable oil, for greasing grill grates
  • Cooked white rice, for serving

Directions

  1. In a food processor or countertop blender, combine onion, scallions, chile, garlic, and ginger. Pulse until finely chopped, about 7 pulses. Add tamarind paste, fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, tomato paste, garlic powder, onion powder, ground ginger, and salt. Process until a rough purée forms, about 45 seconds.

    marinade for grilled chicken thighs

    Andrew Janjigian

  2. Transfer marinade to a large bowl along with chicken and toss until chicken is thoroughly coated with marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

    marinated chicken

    Andrew Janjigian

  3. Light 1 chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals evenly over charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set the burners on a gas grill to the medium setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate.

  4. Remove chicken from marinade, allow excess marinade to drip off, and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet; discard marinade. Place chicken skin-side up directly on the grill. Cover grill, with vents on lid open if using a charcoal grill, and cook until chicken is charred in spots, about 10 minutes (if chicken is charring too quickly, close the vents). Flip chicken, cover, and continue to cook until skin is crispy and charred and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of each chicken thigh registers 165°F (74°C), about 20 minutes.

    grilled chicken thighs

    Andrew Janjigian

  5. Transfer chicken to a serving platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Serve with white rice.

    grilled chicken thighs and rice

    Andrew Janjigian

Special equipment

Gas or charcoal grill, food processor or blender, rimmed baking sheet, instant-read thermometer

Notes

Siling mahaba is a Filipino chile with moderate heat. It's sold in many Filipino and Asian markets. If you cannot find siling mahaba, substitute with 1 jalapeño pepper.

Tamarind concentrate (also sold as tamarind paste) can be found at Asian supermarkets or online. It should be smooth and pourable, strained of any seeds and fibers. I recommend the brand Tamicon for its smooth consistency and moderate tartness.

Make-ahead and Storage

The marinade can be prepared in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week before using.

Grilled chicken thighs can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.