One of the most popular meats to eat grilled or watch people barbecue in their homes in India, is probably without a doubt, tandoori chicken! It’s definitely popular because it is also one of the most requested recipes I’ve been asked to share and I finally pegged a recipe that I love that tastes good and is easy to make.
Tandoori is derived from the word tandoor or the large clay oven where long skewers of marinated meat and poultry are cooked to perfection and where deliciously blistered pieces of naan (Indian flat bread are cooked). We never owned a tandoor at home (they can be pretty huge) and most people in India don’t but there are a few tricks to make this popular chicken dish at home.
Instead of using artificial food colorings to give the chicken its traditional red color, I used a beet which does work very well without affecting the taste though I will admit, I wish it were a deeper shade of red. However, too much beet could also end up sweetening the chicken which is something I wanted to avoid, the marinade gets a deep dark pink color and you will be able to smell the fragrance of the freshly ground spices in it. To cook the chicken in two stages, bake first and then broil to get those characteristic tandoor marks on the chicken. A good piece of tandoori chicken is succulent and juicy with complex spicy flavors mingled with notes of fresh lemon juice, spicy and sour all rolled into one.
My version of tandoori chicken calls for a large amount of chicken as you will see below but this way you can prepare the marinate the chicken ahead of time and freeze some for later. Just thaw a batch in the refrigerator before you are ready to cook. Freezing the chicken in batches is also a great way to save some time over the week. Serve your tandoori chicken with flatbreads such as naan, roti or rice, a refreshing salad and some plain yogurt.
My instructions here are for the oven but you can also toss these on the grill to cook them.
homemade tandoori chicken
yields: 6lbs chicken drumsticks
6lbs chicken drumsticks
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 cup red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup beet, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 inch piece ginger root, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon green cardamom seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons turmeric powder
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
12 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon paprika
12 whole cloves
4 dried red chilies (I used Kashmiri chilies but feel free to use any spicy kind you prefer/you can also substitute with 5-6 fresh red/green thai chili peppers)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon kosher sea salt
extra lemons for serving
1. Remove any skin from the chicken, rinse under cold water and pat them dry with a clean paper towel. Make two deep slits across the flesh of each chicken drumstick and keep aside in a large mixing bowl.
2. Using a food processor/blender/immersion blender, pulse all the ingredients from the yogurt to the salt until completely smooth. Pour the marinade over the chicken and coat the meat evenly. Cover with cling film and allow to marinade in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours (maximum overnight) before cooking. (At this point you can do what I did if you don’t want to cook all 6 lbs of chicken, I divided the marinaded chicken after 2 hours and froze half of it in a ziploc bag, the rest I kept to marinate).
3. Place one wire rack in the middle of the oven and another rack closest to the top and preheat to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place about 6 pieces of the chicken drumstick about an inch apart from each other. Pour about 1-2 tablespoons of the left over marinade from the chicken over each piece of meat and cook in the oven on the middle rack for about 30 minutes, turning the chicken pieces over half-way through the cooking. The chicken is cooked when the internal temperature reaches 160F. At this stage, immediately switch the broiler on and transfer the rack with the chicken to the top shelf. Broil for about 3-5 minutes until the chicken pieces get slightly charred. Remove the chicken drumsticks and place in a plate, cover and allow to rest for 2-3 minutes before serving. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the tandoori chicken before serving. Cook the rest of the tandoori chicken drumsticks and serve similarly.