There’s a Quick Way to Get Restaurant Quality at Home
One of my favorite main-course Indian eats is Tandoori Chicken, a bright red dish with succulent, rich flavor. Traditionally it’s cooked in a tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven that reaches temperatures approaching 900 degrees F. This high heat sears the surface of meat to seal in tasty juices, then quickly cooks everything to tender perfection.
But who has a tandoor at home? And how can you possibly make this dish without a specialized oven?
Well, it’s actually quite easy. You can use an outdoor grill, if you have one. Otherwise, just cook the chicken under your oven’s broiler. True, these methods don’t generate the heat of a tandoor, so it will take a bit longer to cook the chicken. But the flavor of home-cooked is still remarkably good. Maybe not quite tandoor quality, but awfully close.
Best yet, if you use commercial tandoori marinade — a product used in many Indian restaurants — preparation time for this recipe is under 5 minutes. Yet the Tandoori Chicken will be so flavorful, your guests will think you slaved all day over the recipe. I won’t tell if you won’t.
Recipe: Easy Tandoori Chicken
I discovered commercial tandoori marinades by accident years ago, while walking by an Indian restaurant in New York City. This particular establishment, which was noted for the excellence of its tandoori dishes, had a delivery truck parked on the street outside. And just as I passed by, a worker wheeled in a hand truck loaded with boxes of . . . commercial tandoori marinade.
This was a face-palm moment. I had made tandoori marinade at home, with good (but not great) results. It wasn’t hard, but it was a bit of work. And I could never quite achieve the great red color that tandoori dishes always have in restaurants. (The color comes from food dye.) But if a well-known restaurant was staking its reputation on a commercially prepared product, maybe I should consider using it too.
So I went looking for commercial tandoori marinade — it's also often called tandoori paste — and found several different brands on offer at Indian groceries. Every one I’ve tried has been decent, but my favorite is made by Patak’s, a British manufacturer of Indian condiments, spice mixtures, and prepared meals. They sell varieties of tandoori marinade both with and without food dye. So if you object to the coloring, you have a non-dyed option that’s just as flavorful (the dye doesn’t affect taste). BTW, I’m not associated in any way with Patak’s, nor do I profit from mentioning them — I just like their tandoori paste.
If you prefer to avoid commercial marinade altogether, I provide a recipe for a homemade version in the Notes.
For this recipe, you need pieces of skinless chicken (if you’re using chicken breasts, get the boneless). I think thighs are actually tastier in this recipe, but I really like the look of chicken breasts, and the pieces are bigger. So that’s what I generally use.
This recipe serves 4, but it’s very easy to scale up or down. It takes less than 5 minutes to mix the marinade (you add yogurt to the commercial product) and then coat the chicken with it. You should let the chicken marinate for a few hours (I usually mix it the night before). Cooking the chicken takes 15 or 20 minutes.
- ~ ½ cup plain yogurt (you may want to add more; see Notes)
- ~ ¾ cup tandoori marinade (again, you may want to add more; see Notes)
- 4 skinless and boneless chicken breasts (or skinless thighs or drumsticks)
- You want to let the chicken get acquainted with the yogurt and tandoori paste, so do this step several hours before you want to cook the chicken (the night before is better). Anyway, combine yogurt and tandoori marinade in a plastic food bag (or a bowl) large enough to hold the chicken. Mix together.
- Add the chicken to the yogurt mixture, and mix to cover completely. Seal bag and refrigerate until ready to cook. (If using bowl, cover bowl with shrink wrap.)
- About an hour (or a bit less) before you want to eat, light outside grill (or oven broiler; see Notes for broiler cooking instructions) and allow to preheat.
- Remove chicken from bag, and place on grill; turn heat to medium. Cover grill (if your grill has a cover) and cook for 8 minutes.
- At the 8-minute mark, turn the chicken. If it’s getting a bit burned, turn the heat down. Continue grilling, covered, until the chicken reaches 160 degrees F — usually another 7 to 10 minutes.
- Remove from grill and serve.
- If cooking chicken in the oven, preheat broiler, put chicken on broiler pan, and place under broiler for about 8 minutes (check on it every couple of minutes). Turn chicken, lower oven heat to 350 degrees F, and continue cooking until chicken reaches 160 degrees F (usually another 10 minutes or so).
- You can also just cook the chicken in a 350-degree F oven for 20 minutes or so, although it won’t get the nice char on it that grilling or broiling provide.
- Exact measurements on the yogurt and the tandoori paste aren’t critical. I always “eyeball” when I make this dish — and I usually mix more than I specify in the recipe, just because I like to have my chicken swimming in yogurt mixture. But that’s a bit wasteful, and the quantity I suggest works.
- If you prefer to make your own tandoori marinade, here’s how: Take a cup of plain yogurt, and add to it 1/3 cup lemon juice, 2 tablespoons freshly minced or grated ginger, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon garam masala (optional), and 2 teaspoons kosher salt (or to taste). Mix, and proceed with Step 2. This homemade tandoori marinade isn’t bad, but it’s not nearly as good as mixing Patak’s paste with yogurt. And it lacks that gorgeous red color (it’s not worth messing with food coloring for this, IMO; besides, I can never get the color right).
- You often see tandoori chicken served with a garnish of blackened onion rings (raw onions cut into thick rings that are then run under a broiler until they char a bit; they’re only partially cooked). This has never done much for me, but you may like it.
- BTW, the color of tandoori chicken can vary from bright red to red-orange. If you add turmeric to your spice paste, it tilts the color towards orange. The more turmeric you add, the more the red shifts to orange.
The Star of an Indian Dinner
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs and I were silent as we slurped up our Tandoori Chicken, Summer Squash in Tomato Curry Sauce, Pink Dal with Swiss Chard, and Aromatic Yellow Rice.
Finally, Mrs K R came up for air. “All of these dishes are so great! I don’t know which I like best. At the moment probably the chicken. It’s delectable.”
I nodded in agreement, mouth full.
Then Mrs K R scrutinized her plate. “Hey, where’s that great potato dish you promised? The one with all the heavenly ginger and garlic?”
“Coming up later this week,” I said, wiping my mouth. “There’s only so much we can fit into one dinner!”
“Good,” she replied. “And of course we’ll serve it with more Tandoori Chicken.”
Indeed we will. Mrs. K R’s wish is my command!
You may also be interested in reading about:
Summer Squash in Tomato Curry Sauce
Pink Dal with Swiss Chard
Aromatic Yellow Rice
Sweet Potatoes in Curry Sauce
Cheddar Cheese Chicken Curry
Red-Braised Beans and Sweet Potatoes
White Bean and Potato Soup
Split Pea Soup with Greens
Vegan Mapo Tofu
Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans Barbecued Pork Steaks