Tepache-glazed wings on fried rice Credit: Julia Thiel

“I was looking for bags of brown liquid on the side of the road, but I didn’t see any,” Dan Compton of Vie says of his search for tepache. Challenged by Nathan Sears of the Radler and DAS to create a dish with the fermented pineapple drink popular in Mexico, Compton headed to Little Village to locate it. But while he didn’t see any being sold on the side of the road, he did find some in the second restaurant he stopped into. “I think the woman was pretty proud of it, actually,” he says. “She was excited that I asked; she drank some with me.”

In addition to buying a jug of tepache from the restaurant, Compton made his own, combining pineapple—both the rind and the flesh—with sugar and water and letting the mixture ferment for about four days. Natural yeast in the pineapple rind causes the fermentation; the drink usually has a very low alcohol content (less than 2 percent ABV). Let the liquid ferment too long and it’ll turn into vinegar. In Mexico, where tepache has been made for centuries—originally with corn, which is where the name comes from—it’s often mixed with beer.

Compton says tepache “tastes like pineapple beer, for lack of a better term. You get that pineapple fruitiness, but then there’s that yeasty effervescence at the end.” The version he made turned out less sweet than the one he bought, but he liked both of them.

Since tepache tastes like beer, Compton began brainstorming what foods go well with beer; wings and Asian food came to mind. He settled on hot wings with a tepache glaze, served with fried rice cooked in tepache. He considered using the tepache as a marinade, but worried that the bromaline in pineapple—a compound that’s a natural meat tenderizer—would make the meat mushy.

To make the wings, Compton briefly marinated them in a mixture of tepache and buttermilk before dredging them in seasoned flour and deep-frying them. For the glaze, he combined tepache, pickled cherry bomb peppers, a little pickling liquid, honey, and garlic and reduced it over low heat to make a glaze, stirring in a little butter at the end. To make the fried rice, he cooked white rice in tepache, let it cool overnight, then fried it with roasted broccoli and pineapple, chorizo verde, garlic, ginger, and Worcestershire sauce, finishing it with scallions.

And of course he served the dish with a glass of tepache. Two, to be exact: the one he’d made and the one he’d bought. The tepache glaze adds a little funk to the sweet and spicy wings, he says; in the rice it adds acidity. I’m pretty happy with this,” he says. “It works for me.”

Who’s next:
Compton has challenged Edward Sura of Perennial Virant to create a dish with pawpaws—the fruit of the pawpaw tree, which is now in season. “It has an odd texture, a very unique flavor, and I don’t see it getting used too much,” Compton says. “I’d like to give him the challenge of using one of those local ingredients that gets overlooked.”

Tepache-glazed hot wings with tepache fried rice

Fried rice
1 C long-grain white rice
2 C tepache
4 tsp grape-seed oil
2 oz chorizo verde or similar sausage
1/2 C broccoli florets
1/4 C fresh pineapple
1 T pickled ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and black pepper to taste

Rinse the rice in cold running water, stirring occasionally, until the water runs clear. In a small pot, cover the rice with the tepache. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until the rice is tender. Strain through a sieve to remove any excess tepache, then spread thinly on a baking sheet and allow to dry in the refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight.

Over high heat, roast the broccoli florets and pineapple separately, each in one teaspoon of grape-seed oil. Set aside. Heat the remaining two teaspoons of oil in a wok or saute pan until just starting to smoke. Add the sausage, garlic, and ginger and cook until browned. Add one cup of the precooked rice and fry, stirring frequently, for two minutes. Add the broccoli, pineapple, and Worcestershire and cook for another minute. Remove from heat, add the sliced scallions, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chicken wings
6 chicken wings
1 C buttermilk
1 C tepache
1 tsp salt

Seasoned flour dredge
2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt

1/4 C cherry bomb or other hot pepper pickling liquid
3/4 C tepache
2 T honey
1 cherry bomb or other pickled hot pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T butter
salt and black pepper, to taste

Combine the tepache, buttermilk, and salt. Soak the wings in this mixture for at least ten minutes. Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the seasoned flour, mix well, and set aside. In a shallow pan, combine the pickle liquid, tepache, honey, minced hot pepper, and garlic. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce until syrupy and thick. Stir in butter and remove from heat. Transfer the wings to the seasoned flour and toss to coat well. Shake off any excess flour and put the wings back into the marinade, then coat with seasoned flour a second time. Fry wings in 350-degree peanut oil until cooked through, four to five minutes. Toss wings with tepache glaze to coat.

Serve the wings over the rice with a cold glass of tepache alongside.