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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tandoori Chicken

Characterised by its fiery red colour and explosive hit of spices, Tandoori style food has etched itself onto the must-have dishes when dining at an Indian restaurant.  The name Tandoori derives from the clay oven that the food is cooked in, known as the tandoor.  The use of these ovens, that can reach extremely high temperatures, is widespread across the Indian sub-continent and also in the Middle East.  The cylindrical ovens are lit with a wood fire, usually at the base, and then allowed to heat up to such intensity that meat can cook within minutes when skewered and placed inside.  Tandoors are also used in producing Naan bread, and you will know when they are cooked this traditional way, as the Naans will be soft on the inside and have a crispy, charred and flavoursome exterior.  The principals of tandoori cooking are very much in line with that of convection ovens – to some degree.  In restaurants the meat or vegetables are marinated and then threaded onto metal skewers and then plunged into the furnace where they cook to smoky perfection.  The smokiness of the end result comes from the dripping juices from the food evaporating and infusing the food, as they splash onto the hot wood fire. 
I have dined on Tandoori at restaurants across India during my brief travels there and savoured every piece of chicken and lamb tikka kebab.  Here in Melbourne there are some good places that put a on a fairly comparable Tandoori chicken dish and some even keep the tandoors within view of the diners to heighten the excitement of the dining experience.  Like with most restaurant food I eat I like to emulate it in the home kitchen in the hope that it tastes somewhat similar and worthy.  Unfortunately I do not own a tandoor oven although, they are available to purchase - so I am taking donations….anyone!!! 
For a while I have tried making Tandoori Chicken in the kitchen oven, on the bbq and even on a grill plate.  While the marinade has been good and followed to the letter from Indian recipes – the end result falters in the taste department and I had almost given up.  That was until our backyard acquired a new resident – the Weber Kettle BBQ.  This spherical oven produces some very flavoursome roasts cooked above hot coals in what’s called the indirect method of barbequing.  This is when the coals are positioned around the meat and not directly below it, as a griller would have it.  It was this that inspired me to try cooking Tandoori chicken in this manner.  Combining whole chickens with a perfect blend of spices and an admittedly “cheats” ingredient, I had finally come up with restaurant worthy Tandoori Chicken that I have served up to my guests, and gotten major compliments for.  
The process is not exceptionally hard to do and the reward is remarkable.  This recipe yields about three whole Tandoori chickens and I keep at least one as a left over and freeze it to use later in a mouth-watering Butter Chicken recipe.  If you do not have a Weber at home, then the conventional oven will do – you just will not have the smoky flavour that’s all but the chicken will still be tasty – trust me!  Use the red food colour to give it that exotic look and you can’t go wrong.  In our family we actually consider Tandoori as a shade of red – like Scarlett and Magenta.  “Fake tanned bodies will get called Tandoori colour”.  Marinate this dish a day ahead for maximum taste.

3 x Chickens, kept whole with skin removed
250g x Yoghurt
3tsp x Cumin, powder
3tsp x Coriander, powder
2tsp x Garam Masala
1tsp x Turmeric
3 tsp x Ginger, freshly grated
6 x Cloves of Garlic, crushed  
2 x tbsp Tandoori Paste (This is my biggest cheat, as no matter how hard I have tried I have not gotten a better taste without the paste)
Chilli powder (As much or as little as you like)
Salt to taste
Red Food Colouring (after all if it ain’t red it ain’t Tandoori)
3 x Lemons, medium size

In a large non-metallic bowl combine yoghurt with ginger, garlic and dry spices
Add the Tandoori Paste and mix well.
Adjust salt to taste then add the food colour.
Prepare the chickens by scoring the thighs, legs and breast sections with ½ cm cuts
Rub the marinade over the chicken and inside the cavity before placing a lemon in each cavity.
Allow to marinate overnight in the fridge.

DAY TWO (I will give instructions on how to cook the chicken in a conventional oven, however I did use my kettle BBQ in an indirect method which takes about 1½ hour until the meat is cooked through)
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius
Place the chickens onto a wire grill above a roasting dish to catch the drippings
Bake for 20 minutes on the high heat then turn oven down to 175 degrees Celsius and cook for a further 45 minutes.

Chicken is done when the juices run clear
Allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving it up
Serve with leafy greens, lemon wedges and a minted yoghurt for dipping

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