Tandoori Chicken

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Growing up, my dad, his partner and I had a Sunday tradition of Indian buffet in Cambridge, MA.  I typically made the trip from NYC to Boston once a month and every Sunday we’d hop on the Tube and get off at Central Station to hit up whichever Indian spot they’d currently decided was the best in town.  Inevitably every six months or so they’d venture out to a new place and proclaim this one the new favorite.

For me, a good Indian buffet has several features.  Aside from the obvious freshness factor, I look for a good variety of dishes (e.g. veg, lentils, meats), quality homemade chutneys in mass quantities, and good Kheer (Indian rice pudding) for dessert.  Tandoori chicken is not a staple for me at Indian lunch buffets mostly because the qualities that make or break Tandoori chicken are the antithesis of buffet style food. There’s a reason why Tandoori typically comes on a sizzling plate with charred onions and melting lemons – it should be served hot and fresh to prevent the meat from drying.

After years of feeling intrigued by indian marinades I decided to start playing around with my own Tandoori recipes. I love the idea of marinating meat in yogurt and spices, a tradition found in so many great South Asian and Middle Eastern recipes. The yogurt acts as a natural tenderizer and keeps the meat moist when cooking. It also locks in great flavor when combined with herbs and spices.  For a super simple recipe, this one uses a number of great techniques that will help you make loads of great marinades.  I like to serve this chicken with mango chutney (Kalustyan’s is my absolute favorite) and warm buttery naan.

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Tips and Tricks

  • I’ve already mentioned the benefits of marinading meat in yogurt.  In this recipe I use bone-in pieces of chicken which tend not to dry out as easily as boneless breasts through these could be used as well.  Tougher cuts of lamb also really benefit from a yogurt marinade.  Feel free to marinade your meat all day if that’s convenient. Whenever possible, I like to make this marinade in the morning and let the meat tenderize all day in the fridge until it’s time to cook. As for the type of yogurt, it goes without saying that you want to use plain with full fat being my preference.
  • Regular yogurt, as opposed to greek yogurt, contains a lot of water.  If you have greek yogurt on hand, this has already been strained and hence works perfectly. I don’t tend to buy greek yogurt and so I strain it myself, an incredibly simple process shown above.  Simple spoon your yogurt into two layers of paper towel and synch at the top with your hand.  Gently squeeze the yogurt and the water should come running out.  What you’re left with is very thick yogurt and will not water down your marinade and will act as a super glue with your meat.
  • This recipe is a perfect example of when spice mixes really come in handy.  See my post on Dry Spice Blends for more info on where to find my favorite brands.  If you can’t find Tandoori spice mix and want to make your own, you can easily do so by mixing ground tumeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic and a tough of clove.  There are other ingredients in this mix but this should get you close enough.

Tandoori chicken

Marinade:

1 inch hunk of ginger

3 cloves of garlic

2 Tablespoons Tandoori spice mix

¾ whole milk yogurt, greek or hand strained

handful of cilantro

1 T kosher salt

1 teaspoon lime or lemon juice

cut-up whole chicken

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To make your marinade, finely chop your ginger, garlic and cilantro or throw them into a small food processor.  Feel free to use the tender stems of the cilantro.  Add your chopped ingredients to a large bowl and mix with your spice mixture, salt and lemon juice.

If you don’t have greek yogurt, take two pieces of paper towel (one on top of another) or a clean cloth kitchen towel and spoon your yogurt into the center.  Bunch up the sides of the towel and carefully squeeze the water out. Add yogurt to marinade mixture and carefully blend together until full incorporated.

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Cut up whole chicken or clean/trim whichever kind of meat you prefer.  Add to the marinade and cover int he refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.  Bring back to room temperature before placing on the grill or into the broiler.  Garnish with lemon or lime slices and fresh cilantro. Serve with your favorite chutney and naan.

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