Oct 16 2011

Tandoor Is The Night

Published by Christine at 10:45 am under Poultry

It all started with Madhur Jaffrey.

The “actress who could cook” has authored what is, in my humble opinion, the ultimate Indian cookbook. I refer to it often when I’m in the mood for something spicy, warm and colorful. Her recipe for samosas is an old standby in my kitchen, and I also make frequent use of her vegetarian ideas.

This time around, however, I was looking for inspiration on how to make chicken. I had already decided the chicken would be grilled (last weekend’s weather was just too heavenly to remain confined in the house), but I wanted something a bit jazzier than the usual lime/cilantro/what-have-you marinade – not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. Just not this time around.

I looked into Madhur’s book and found her recipe for tandoori-style chicken. It calls for yogurt (a traditional ingredient in Indian cooking) and a mix of spices. Yogurt helps keep the chicken moist as it cooks, and ginger helps tenderize the meat. Unfortunately, the recipe also calls for two things I either did not have, or did not want to use. The first one is food coloring, which is how tandoori chicken gets its bright orange hue. My personal belief is that dyes in food products are unnecessary; I’ll keep enjoying my gummy bears all the same, but I’d rather not put artificial coloring in the food I prepare. The second issue is that I have no tandoor. But as I said before, I wanted to use the grill anyway, and so I did not let that deter me. Having said that, note that you can also cook this chicken in a regular oven; just make sure it is very hot, as you do not want the chicken to boil in its juices.

I deviated from the original recipe quite a bit in that the mix of spices and aromatics I used was quite different from the original. In that sense, this recipe is no more a tandoori-style chicken than I am a native of Mumbai, but the inspiration from (and my thanks to) Ms. Jaffrey remain. In keeping with the original recipe, I used ginger, garlic and garam masala, but gone are the onion, lemon and green chili. Instead, I used a mix of cayenne pepper for heat, lime juice and ground cardamom. In order to give the chicken a nice color, I decided to use saffron, which has the added benefit of giving flavor to the marinade as well.

This is the kind of recipe that takes only five minutes to put together. It is also very easy to make on a week night: before you go to work, blend the ingredients for the marinade, put the chicken and the marinade in a large Ziploc bag, and put in the fridge. When you come home, heat up the grill (or oven), take the chicken out of the marinade (which you should discard along with the bag), and cook. With a green salad on the side, this is a tasty, healthful meal that can be ready in 30 min. or less.

That should give you plenty of time to catch up on your reading.


Grilled Chicken In Yogurt-Saffron Marinade


2 to 3 lbs chicken thighs (skin on if you intend to grill them, skinless if you want to bake them)
1 cup plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp minced ginger
1 healthy pinch saffron
2 tsp cardamom
2 tsp garam masala
juice of one or two limes
1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt to taste

Blend together all spices and aromatics with the lime juice and yogurt. Place in a large Ziploc bag along with the chicken, mix well, and let marinate, refrigerated, for at least 5 to 6 hours (or overnight).

Yogurt & Spices

Heat up grill (or oven). Remove chicken from marinade (discard marinade and bag) and cook until done, about 20 min. Serve with salad and/or basmati rice.

Gatsby never had it this good.


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