This Tandoori Chicken recipe really should be called Tandoori-Style Chicken because it's not cooked in a Tandoor, but on the Tandoor's close cousin, the BBQ or grill.
The making of Tandoori Chicken
Tandoori Chicken without a Tandoor?
The tandoor is used for cooking in Southern, Central, and Western Asia. It is a deep centrical oven and is made of clay with some sort of insulating material like concrete or mud on the outside and often curves inward toward the top like a beehive or jug to concentrate the heat. A top opening is left clear to allow access and ventilation. A fire is built on the bottom, which heats both the walls of the oven and the air inside to upwards of 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Before cooking, the fire is allowed to die down to coals so that the temperature remains consistent while food is cooked. The temperature inside of a tandoor can be as high as 450 degrees when cooking. That's a hot oven!
OK...no tandoor here. But the charcoal BBQ grill is a close second. Even better if you are lucky enough to own a Big Green Egg. I'm not, so my Weber had to work, for now. It did a fine job. If you don't have a charcoal grill, use your gas grill. Either way, set it up for indirect heat.
Tandoori Chicken is a wonderful combination of rich spices, marinated in whole milk yogurt with some acidic lemon juice. Here is one place where you want to use REAL full fat, full milk plain yogurt. I didn't realize how hard it was to find full-fat whole milk yogurt anymore. There was only one brand being offered in the store along with a wide array of low-fat, non-fat, Greek, flavored, and every other imaginable yogurt. I remember when that was the total opposite!
Preparing the chicken for Tandoori Chicken
Start with some bone-in chicken. I generally prefer legs and thighs for this dish as those cuts stay juicier, but you can use chicken breast as well. Just make sure it's bone-in. I like to remove the skin as I find I not only don't need the extra fat and calories but removing it allows the marinade to soak in better and flavor the meat. You need to make deep slashes in the meat, almost but not quite to the bone. Slash the meat about at 1 - 2-inch intervals.
Tandoori Chicken is often bright red in color. This is done by either using annatto or red food dye. I didn't have any annatto and prefer not to put dye into my food, so it's just the yellowish color of the spices, and then nice and brown when cooked. It looks and tastes just fine and dandy to me.
Just mix the spices with the yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and ginger. Work that mixture well into the chicken pieces (I'd advise wearing gloves during this process so you don't dye your hands) then place in a container, or use my preferred method of a zip-top bag. A zip-top bag allows you to remove a lot of air and the marinade coats the chicken pieces better. Place in the refrigerator for a few hours at least, but not more than 5 or 6 as the marinade will change the texture of the meat. Too long in the marinade and your chicken will be soft and mushy. We are going for flavor here, not soft mushy meat.
Once you are ready to cook, remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off the excess. We are looking for a well-coated piece of meat, but don't want it overly coated. Cook off-heat, turning a few times with tongs to get it well cooked, then when the chicken juices run clear, put the chicken directly over the coals or your heat source in your gas grill to give it a nice dark char.
Note: The prep time does not include the marinating time.
LindySez: For a complete meal, serve this Tandoori Chicken along with Orange Scented CousCous and Roasted Indian Spiced Cauliflower.
Wine Recommendation: A crisp white wine, like a Sauv Blanc or Pinot Gris, would work nicely.
- 4 whole chicken legs thigh and leg separated, skin removed, bone left in (sometimes I find it difficult to pull the skin all the way off the leg, to make this easier, use a paper towel to grab the skin when it gets to the bottom, then give it a good yank)
- 3 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon garam marsala
- 1 tablespoon paprika sweet, not hot
- 1 teaspoon each; ground cumin coriander, turmeric, and cayenne
- 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 cloves garlic finely minced or put through a garlic press
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- Salt to taste
- In a small sauté pan, heat the oil, add the garam masala, paprika, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne, cook for about 2 - 3 minutes or until fragrant. Allow to cool completely.
- Once cooled add to the yogurt along with the lemon juice, garlic, ginger, and salt. Mix well.
- Cut 2 to 3 deep slashes (just to the bone) in the chicken pieces. Place in a deep dish or zip-top bag. Pour the marinade over and using clean hands coat the pieces well, making sure you work it into the slits. Cover (or close the bag) and marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours at least (best about 5 or 6) but not longer masala 8 (the acid in the marinade will soften the meat, and you don't want it too soft).
- Prepare your grill for indirect heat. Oil your grates
- Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade shaking off any excess, you want the chicken well coated, but not overly gloppy. Place the chicken on the grill where there is no fire. Cover and cook, turning once or twice, for 25 - 30 minutes, depending on the size of your pieces, the chicken is cooked once the juices run clear.
- Move the chicken over the coal, or fire, and cook for a few more minutes until nicely charred.