Mon Sep 22, 2008
Indian is one cuisine I have rarely attempted to make at home. Since the closest grocery to my house abounds with Indian specialties, I always feel like I should be cooking it, but Indian recipes' lists of ingredients and procedures usually tend to be prohibitive, especially with such an inexpensive and delicious Indian restaurant only blocks away. Contemplating a move in the new year, I thought I should take advantage of the access I have to these spices and pastes and learn how to cook some of my Indian favorites. The grill, of course, was the first place I started.
Tandoori chicken is aptly named for the vessel it's cooked in, a tandoor. I don't see myself purchasing or building a tandoor in the near future (although not out of the question during my lifetime), so the grill is probably the next best comparable cooking apparatus. A tandoor can reach around 900 degrees Fahrenheit, leading me to the conclusion that no matter what I do, my 600 degree grill will never produce an exact replica of tandoori chicken, but it was still worth seeing what I could accomplish.
Knowing that I would never match real tandoori chicken, I never-the-less wanted to go for as authentic of a flavor as possible. This involved loading in spice after spice into a bowl of yogurt to make the marinade. The cubes of chicken went in to soak up all the flavor and color overnight in the fridge. Those familiar with the dish know it's usually an orangy-red, but I decided to forgo any artificial food coloring and used turmeric instead, giving the marinade and chicken a bright yellow glow.
Tandoori meat is usually cooked on a stick (look for the holes in your chicken next time you order it), so I wanted to do the same with this. I decided to make skewers of them with bell peppers and onions. In order to avoid the common problem of my onions breaking during skewering, or falling off while grilling, I threaded them onto the stick in stacks of three layers, which solved both previous problems.
With my veggies cut and chicken marinaded for 24 hours, I assembled the skewers. If you make this at home, I beg you to be more cautious than myself during this process. The marinade flew across the kitchen while I threaded these, and turmeric creates one hell of a stain. Both my nice wood workspace and the clothes I wore that day will be constant reminders of my carelessness, with seemingly permanent yellow stains, which I hope others will recognize as turmeric and not something more embarrassing...
As I said before, my grill would never be a true replacement for a tandoor, but in an attempt to get as close as possible, I grilled these as soon as the charcoal was ready, when the fire was at its hottest. They caramelized and cooked through quickly, about 2 minutes for each of the 4 sides. The result was a chicken I might actually prefer to the original. The marinade created a pretty comparably flavored chicken, but cooking it at a lower temperature ensured the chicken remained tender and juicy, something that not all tandoori chicken is.
Now that my house is filled with all these Indian ingredients, and I have one dish successfully down, I hope I'll push myself to further explore cooking this delectable cuisine. Vindaloo anyone?
For the marinade
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
4 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon coriander
3 lbs skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 bell peppers, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large red onion, into 1 inch piece
Wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes before use
In a large bowl, mix together all of the marinade ingredients. Toss in the cubed chicken and transfer to a large ziploc bag. Seal bag, removing as much air as possible, and place in the refrigerator and marinate overnight to 24 hours.
Light 1 chimney full of charcoal. While the fire is lighting, thread bell peppers, onions and chicken pieces onto skewers, alternating between the three ingredients.
When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals out evenly over the charcoal grate. Clean and lightly oil cooking grate. Grill skewers immediately, while the fire is at its hottest, about 2-3 minutes per side, until cooked through.
Let skewers cool for about 5 minutes before serving.