I have had plenty of Tandoori chicken from a wide array of Indian restaurants but it wasn’t until I landed in the Maldives by way of India that I truly fell in love with it’s complexity.
I was on a project (that ultimately fizzled) in Bangkok when I was invited to a friend’s honeymoon party. Now, coming from the West the honeymoon party almost always means a party of “two”. So that you “two” could have copious amount of sex, wine and food not necessarily in that order but that is generally the menu day-to-day. I wasn’t sure if that was customary and certainly didn’t want to impose but, hey, when in Rome…
Then I did some cursory research on Maldives and I could hardly contain my myself. The images I saw online were jaw-droppingly beautiful. I was bubbly, tingly, jittery for many days always thinking “Hey Mike, you finally made it to the good life”. The two people who invited me were “good” people, but very flaky and were deep in online gambling in and around SE Asia so nothing was ever for sure which added to my anxiety.
Well, the day came and I had my tickets in hand. “I could hardly believe I had tickets to the Maldives!” I kept muttering all day. Now here’s the kicker. There was another surprise. We were all going to stay at an exclusive cast-away-esk” eco-resort called Sixth Senses.
I just about orgasmed right there. I come from very humble beginnings and these expensive, high society places are an atypical vacation for me. I am used to hostels, camping and taking buses through countries. This was definitely not normal. I decided to not ask a whole lot of questions. Again, if this was my honeymoon there would only be the two of us but hey I’m good at keeping quiet. I had Maldives on the brain.
That first night was an absolute dream.
Perhaps it was the weather, the bottomless wine offerings or simply the intoxicating ambiance of being far, far away in the Maldives that made this one Tandoori chicken so great. Without much regard to manners and etiquette I man-handled each piece. They belonged in my belly. This was the carnivore in me making a spectacle. I was a demon possessed by hunger and pleasure. I didn’t much care about anything in the world at that moment…actually many moments and days afterward as well.
The chicken was a delicious combination of sweet, smoky, savory, bitter, spicy and sour. I carried that memory with me for a long time. It wasn’t until I moved to NYC that I really wanted to start mastering some of the Indian genre but more importantly, make that incredibly tasty Tandoori. I was tired of waking up with those salt, fat, and spice hangovers from various Indian restaurants. I wanted something without all the additives. Something natural, low sodium, fresh and the only way to get it was to do it myself. So off I went.
Making the paste for this homemade tandoori chicken is no more difficult that standing in line at the grocery store perhaps even a bit easier.
Now this recipe is what I consider a baseline – not too salty, not too spicy and not overwhelmingly fragrant. Go ahead and taste your paste before you add the chicken to it. You should have something very pungent. If it is not salty enough, add a bit more. If it’s not spicy enough, add more. So on and so forth.
I don’t have a big clay pot just hanging about or loads of hot coal at my disposal so I will improvise. Will you get that traditional charred taste? No, but very close especially if you follow this easy method.
- 4 free-range small chicken breasts cut into about 2cm-3cm cubes
- 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
- 3 tbl. ginger-garlic paste. Generally used in every Indian household. I always just do a 1:1 for this paste. I keep some of this paste for stir-fry and Korean dishes as well.
- 2 tbl. tamarind pulp. A key ingredient for my Tandoori. It adds a unique tang and sweetness.
- 3 tsp sumac. I add this in place of more lemon juice since it has sour notes but also as a natural red coloring agent.
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. cayenne
- 3 tsp. smoked paprika to give it a BBQ clay pot taste and to deepen the red color.
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric
- 1 tsp. cumin powder
- 3 tsp of garam masala
- 1 tsp. ground coriander seeds
- 1 tbl fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbl heavy cream as a finisher or a press of whipped cream (learned this from a local Indian dude)
- Take everything except the chicken and mix it up. You will end up with a mixture of sweet, savory, bitter, spicy and sour. All swirled up with those traditional Indian spices.
- Taste it.
- Put the chicken cubes into the paste / yogurt marinade for 5-7 hours.
- Thread the chicken pieces onto some metal skewers. Metal is key here. Rock on.
- Now turn on your broiler and place the skewers a few inches underneath the flame or element.
- Turn every 1 minute for the next 4 minutes – every side.
- If you are doing this on the grill, they should cook about a minute or so on each side.
- Pull and let them rest for a couple minutes.
This dish has just a little heat but needed since it is Tandoori. I would add more but wifey won't eat it when it's too hot.
If you have a grill, fantastic. Turn it all the way up. You know when it's hot enough when you won't be able to hold your hand over the grill for longer than 3 seconds.
2-3 minutes on each side. Use a meat thermometer if you are iffy.
Walah. Serve with some thinly sliced white onion, lemon wedges, coriander leaves, a "raita" and naan. Another easy chicken recipe.
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