There are certain dishes that seem off limits for us as home cooks because they require a piece of kitchen equipment that we don’t—and will never—have. I would count tandoori chicken as one of those dishes. Strictly defined, it’s chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked in a tandoor, a clay oven that’s most often used to bake Indian flatbreads. This is a nonstarter, except for the handy people who decide to build their own tandoor out of flower pots (needless to say, I am not one of those people).
But if we don’t care about being “authentic” (we shouldn’t; it’s kind of a meaningless term, anyway), then we can actually get something pretty close to the original just by using a broiler or a grill. The key is the marinade, which is incredibly flavorful, but easy to put together: Yogurt, garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, garam masala or curry powder, and some combination of paprika and cayenne for heat and that traditional red color (most tandoori chicken gets its bright color from food coloring).
The recipe below is for chicken—most people’s favorite—and also includes a wonderful variation for salmon, which is even faster and easier (serve either with some rice and maybe even a little saag paneer). That said, consider this tandoor marinade a gateway to countless other possibilities: shrimp skewers, skirt steaks, cauliflower steaks, slabs of firm tofu or eggplant, pork or lamb chops or baby back ribs. The list of grilling/broiling options goes on and on, and at this time of year that’s a really good thing. See you Friday.
You cannot make “authentic” tandoori chicken without a tandoor, the clay oven closely associated with Indian cooking and used to make many of that country’s wonderful breads. But, believe it or not, most people (myself included) don’t own a clay oven, so we have to find a workaround. Turns out you can replicate the seasonings and grill or broil it so that it becomes very similar to the original. It isn’t difficult, and it’s really rewarding.
Most tandoori chicken gets its bright red color from food coloring (the salmon pictured here has a dash), but some cooks use a mild chile powder or a healthy dose of paprika, and that’s what I do here. Once you throw the marinade together you can really use it on almost anything (tofu, beef, lamb, pork, fish, shrimp, cauliflower steaks, and so on). It’s particularly nice on salmon; check out the variation.
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