The Indian dish, tandoori chicken consists of pieces of chicken, marinated in a mixture of yoghurt and spices and grilled in a tandoor oven. Traditionally it is a dry dish, meaning there is no sauce and it is served with a squeeze of lemon or lime and some coriander leaves.
A tandoor is a cylindrical clay oven that is partly dug into the ground. Tapered in design, the bottom is filled with charcoal which then radiates heat upwards. Reaching temperatures of up to 250°C, the intensity of the heat means that boned chicken pieces are used as the meat has more fat than a fillet, and therefore remains juicier. Because the meat is placed into the tandoor’s already-hot air, the surface is quickly seared, giving a super crunchy crust and extra tenderness inside.
The delicious Indian bread naan, which accompanies the dish is also prepared in the tandoor, although both tandoori chicken and naan can also be baked in a regular oven.
According to the stories, tandoori chicken has existed since the Mogul Empire (1526-1857) when it was a favourite dish for royal feasts. It was not until the twentieth century that it became a meal for the people when a chef from the Peshawar region of British India (now Pakistan) added it the menu and its popularity was assured.
East vs west
In the UK, you can find packs of tandoori chicken, complete with marinade and rice, in every supermarket. For those who like sauce with the meal, there are also jars of tandoori spice marinade that can be set aside after the preparation of the chicken, then thickened with tomatoes and added after the meat has cooked.
Did you know...?
A version made with chicken without the bone, in which smaller pieces of chicken are marinated in the same spice mix with yoghurt and then roasted on a skewer, is called chicken tikka and is the basis of the dish chicken tikka masala.
Chicken pieces (without skin but with bone) are marinated in a mixture of yoghurt, citrus juice and tandoori masala, a spice mix consisting of garam masala and cayenne pepper (or Kashmiri chilli pepper). This mix gives the typical red colour, but some restaurants add some extra red food colouring.
According to tradition, the marinated pieces of boned chicken are strung on enormous skewers of up to a metre long and placed vertically in the tandoor oven. Twenty minutes later they are ready to eat: cooked, crunchy, smoky and decorated with tasty scorch marks.
If you eat this dish as the Indians do, you serve the tandoori with raw onions, a slice of lime and some fresh coriander. In combination with pilau rice or basmati rice cooked with fragrant spices (or vegetables and a salad if you prefer), you can quickly and easily make a complete meal.
The Japanese also like to eat their chicken from skewers, but it’s called yakitori. If you love the creamy sauce that you get from the supermarket packets, then choose chicken tikka masala, a juicy chicken fillet marinated in the same spices as chicken tandoori, but cooked boneless and served in a generous amount of sauce.