Creamy Mexican Tamarind Chicken

Creamy Mexican Tamarind Chicken features zesty tamarind and chipotle peppers in a creamy reduced-fat sauce lightened up with plain Greek yogurt and milk rather than cream. Elevate this Mexican-inspired main dish with optional caramelized onions, and cilantro rice or red rice. ¡Buen provecho!

A cast iron skillet with creamy Mexican tamarind chicken, red spoon, and print napkin.

👩🏻‍🍳 Tamara Talks – About Tamarind Chicken

If you “google” “tamarind chicken,” you’ll get diverse results – Thai, Indian, African, Jamaican, and more. Tamarind – aka tamarindo – is actually ubiquitous in some Mexican regional cuisine. While tamarind trees are native to Africa, they grow well in tropical areas.

Jalisco, Guerrero, Colima, Chiapas, and Veracruz are the top tamarind producers in Mexico. Tamarind is most often found in candies, horchatas, aqua frescas, and desserts. I have played with tamarind syrup, coconut tamarind ice cream, and a tamarind mezcal cocktail. It is less common in savory dishes.

I love the sweet-tart flavor of tamarind, and with this in mind, set about creating this Mexican tamarind chicken dish. The smoky, medium heat of chipotle peppers are a perfect foil for the tamarind. While I wanted a creamy sauce, I didn’t want all the fat and calories of cream. I found Epicurious has a piece on heavy cream substitutes, and I landed on a yogurt-milk-cornstarch combination.

Garnishes make a regular appearance on my table, like the pomegranate arils on this Mexican sous vide salmon. Fresh garnishes elevate even the humblest of dishes! I have made Mexican Tamarind Chicken several times now, and each time, I’ve garnished with caramelized onions. We also like avocado, a lime wedge or two, and chopped cilantro. Make it your own!

What is tamarind?

Tamarind is a tropical fruit that is commonly used in cooking and for its unique sweet and tangy flavor. The tamarind tree, scientifically known as Tamarindus indica, produces pod-like fruits that contain a brown, sticky pulp with a strong, sour taste.

Tamarind is a common ingredient in Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American cooking. It is used to add tartness to dishes. You’ll find tamarind in soups, sauces, chutneys, and curries. Mexicans really enjoy tamarind to flavor drinks and candies.

📋 Ingredients Notes

Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.

Ingredients for creamy Mexican tamarind chicken including chicken thighs, tamarind concentrate, and chipotle chiles.
  • oil
  • chicken – Boneless, skinless thighs are my preference for saucy, quick-cooking recipes like this one. If you appreciate the extra flavor of bone-in thighs, go for it. I would suggest using chicken tenders or diced chicken if you want to use the breast.
  • onion – Use your preferred onion.
  • garlic
  • ground cumin
  • beer – I use a Coronita (Mexican lager). Avoid strong-flavored beers (IPAs, dark beers, sours, etc.), and stick with lagers. If you’d rather avoid alcohol, substitute broth.
  • chicken broth
  • tamarind – I have made this tamarind chicken with both commercial tamarind concentrate and Goya frozen tamarind pulp. We liked both. For accessibility to the most readers, I’m going with the tamarind paste, but if you email me (form at the bottom of the post), I’ll give you instruction for using the frozen and thawed pulp.
  • chipotle peppers – You want both the chipotle and its adobo, so I specify 2 canned chipotles with adobo. I don’t feel like they’re very hot, but you may want to start with 1 if you’re not familiar with them. Sometimes I have the puréed chipotles, 2 peppers is equivalent to about 2 tablespoons.
  • whole milk – After reading this article on heavy cream substitutes, I landed on a combination of whole fat Greek yogurt and whole milk.
  • plain yogurt – I specify whole fat plain Greek yogurt as it is creamier. Yes, it has more calories, but far fewer than and equivalent amount of heavy cream. You can try substituting nonfat or low fat, but I can’t speak to the end result.
  • cornstarch
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Garnishes – Caramelized onions, avocado, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, chopped scallions, thin-sliced radishes, etc.

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🔪 Step-By-Step Instructions

Step 1 - Sear the chicken on both sides in a skillet.
  • Sear the chicken thighs – Add a drizzle of oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry, and season on both sides. Sear the chicken on both sides. NOTE: Leave the chicken thighs in place 5-7 minutes before turning. This will help develop a golden-brown crust on the bottom. Remove from the skillet. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
Step 2 - Sauté the onion, garlic, and cumin the skillet.
  • Sauté the aromatics – Add the onion to the pan. Sauté until it starts to soften. NOTE: There is probably a little fat in the skillet from the chicken. If not, add a drizzle of olive oil. Add the minced garlic and cumin. Stir and sauté an additional minute or two.
  • Deglaze – Add the beer to the very hot skillet, and reduce by about half, scraping the browned bits from the bottom. NOTE: The alcohol cooks off.
Step 3 - Purée the chipotle, chicken broth, and tamarind concentrate in a blender.
  • Purée the tamarind – Add the tamarind concentrate, chipotles in adobo, and chicken broth to a blender. Pulse until smooth.
Step 4 - Add the broth mixture to the skillet with the chicken and aromatics.
  • Simmer the tamarind chicken – Add the broth mixture to the skillet, and give it a good stir. Add the chicken thighs back to the skillet. Bring it to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover. Simmer 30 minutes or more. NOTE: If I’m not in a hurry, I let the chicken simmer 45 minutes until it’s fork tender.
Step 5 - Combine the whole milk, Greek yogurt, and cornstarch in the blender. Pulse until smooth.
  • Make the creamy thickener – Add the Greek yogurt, whole milk, and cornstarch to the blender. Pulse until smooth.
Step 6 - After reducing the heat to warm, slowly whisk the creamy mixture into the chicken mixture.
  • Add the creamy thickener – After reducing heat to warm, add the creamy mixture slowly to the chicken, whisking vigorously. It may help to remove chicken temporarily.
Step 7 - Stir until a creamy consistency is achieved, and season to taste.
  • Thicken the sauce – Once the sauce is thoroughly combined, gradually increase the heat, stirring regularly. Bring it back to a simmer, and let it simmer until thickened and creamy. Check for seasoning.
  • Serve – Plate the chicken, and cover with a generous amount of sauce. Garnish as desired, and enjoy! NOTE: I love this chicken dish with caramelized onions, chopped cilantro, lime wedge, avocado, and a scoop of cilantro rice.
A black stoneware plate with tamarind chicken, cilantro rice, avocado, and avocado along with black flatware.
Serving suggestion: Garnish the Mexican tamarind chicken with caramelized onions, chopped cilantro, lime wedge, and avocado. Cilantro rice is a great side dish!

❓ FAQ

Is this Mexican tamarind chicken healthy?

I am not a dietician, but having spent a lifetime eating and living a healthy lifestyle, I would say yes. It is made with all whole foods, and nothing processed. It features relatively lean protein, and heavy cream has been replaced by milk and Greek yogurt. Macros (approximate) are 321 calories, 31 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, and 16 g fat.

Are chipotle chiles hot?

Chipotles are dried and smoked jalapeño peppers, and when they are canned in adobo sauce, they absorb the flavors of the sauce, which includes tomatoes, vinegar, garlic, and spices. The heat level varies depending on several factors, including the brand, the specific chiles used, and the recipe of the adobo sauce. Generally, chipotles in adobo are considered moderately spicy, and they can add a nice smoky heat to dishes.

💭 Tips

This recipe calls for tamarind concentrate, which is thin and seedless, but if you can find only the pulp, cook it down with equal parts water for 10–15 minutes until it’s the texture of caramel. If it contains seeds, strain them out.

This recipe makes a very generous amount of sauce. You could easily increase the recipe to serve 6 or 8, and you would have enough sauce.

Is this Mexican tamarind chicken recipe unconventional? Possibly. I don’t think abuelita is making it for her family! I just love playing with my food, and combining Mexican flavors and ingredients in new and creative ways… I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below!

Signature in red and green with chiles and limes. Healthyish Latin cuisine.

Feature image of Mexican tamarind chicken in a cast iron skillet with red serving spoon.

Mexican Tamarind Chicken

Tamarind and chipotle peppers in adobo provide a burst of flavor in this creamy, reduced-fat Mexican-inspired chicken thighs recipe!
5 from 3 votes

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Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Main Dishes
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 4 servings
Calories 321 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 24 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 medium onion - chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic - minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup beer - see Ingredients Notes in post
  • 3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
  • 2 chipotles in adobo - see Ingredients Notes in post
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup plain whole fat yogurt - see Ingredients Notes in post
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • caramelized onions - to garnish, see link below
  • avocado - to garnish, sliced

Instructions

  • Add a drizzle of oil to a hot skillet. Sear the chicken thighs on both sides. Set aside.
  • Add the onion to the skillet over medium heat. Sauté until it starts to soften. Add the cumin and garlic. Stir an additional 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
  • De-glaze the skillet with the beer, scraping browned bits as you reduce the beer by about half. Add the chicken back to the skillet.
  • Add the broth, tamarind concentrate, and chipotles with adobo to a blender. Process until smooth. Add to the skillet. Cover, and simmer 30 minutes.
  • Add the Greek yogurt, whole milk, and cornstarch to the blender. Pulse until smooth. Reduce heat on the skillet, and slowly add to the chicken, whisking vigorously.
  • When the creamy mixture is thoroughly incorporated, increase the heat gradually. Bring back to a simmer, and let it cook long enough to thicken. Check seasoning.
  • Serve one chicken thigh per person with a generous spoonful of sauce. Garnish as desired.

Notes

How to caramelize onions
I used 24 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken thighs to calculate calories for 4 servings. That’s typically one generous thigh per person. I am a stickler for 4-6 ounces of lean protein per person. Your calories will vary according to amount of sauce and chicken served. Does not include garnishes or sides!

Nutrition

Calories: 321kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 16g

NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and/or star rating! Email us with any questions: tamara@beyondmeresustenance.com

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Tamarind Syrup

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