Way back when in 2006, I grudgingly conceded that I would have to learn to cook a few things if I were to stave off starvation. I could not keep eating out, or continue living on the charity of others forever.
In a perfectly romantic world, I would have rushed to the phone and called my mother. Excellent cook that she is, she would rattle off family recipe after family recipe. I would make notes on index cards, my pen flying in pursuit of her words. And, before you could spell “India”, I’d be in the kitchen, stirring simmering pots of curry from which would pour forth curling clouds of vapour aerosolising the apartment with the intoxicating scents of cumin and coriander.
Ha! Now wouldn’t that have been a cozy story? Alas, no, that is not what happened. One, I did not yet have a (flip)phone (we’re in 2006, remember? Think Motorola Razr). I had still not managed to find a part-time on-campus job…which means I couldn’t acquire a social security number. So, the phone company refused me the most basic cell phone plan. That is how fresh off the
boat plane, I was. Besides, I owned just one cooking pot – an old, Indian (whistling) pressure cooker – so cooking multiple curries at once, even if I had known how to make them, was out of the question. No, what I did do, is join an email list called “Recipe du Jour” aimed at novice cooks.
I had, however, already met Keith. And, Mr. Keith had never once in his 25 years on Planet Earth, eaten Indian food. Still, that’s is not why I settled on tandoori chicken, though. I chose tandoori chicken because the recipe from the mailing list had just three steps: mix, marinate, bake. Plus, the kitchen I shared with two other Indian ladies was already stocked with all the spices I needed. When Keith showed up at my door that evening bearing an old microbiology exam to study from (old microbiology exams were major players in our courtship), I was just pulling the chicken out from the oven and offered him some. He had said he liked spicy food, so I decided to challenge him on that claim. He did kindly warn me to not take it personally if he didn’t like it. “I’m a fussy eater,” he said. Well, he loved it. There was hope for him yet.
My current version adds a broil step at the end, to char the chicken in places. This makes the chicken wonderfully smoky and adds a different texture to the dish. This tandoori chicken is not red like you get in restaurants because I don’t add food colouring. I usually opt for chicken drumsticks and thighs over wings as they are more substantial. If I’m feeding people who are uninitiated to the bold flavours of Indian cuisine, I opt for this milder version. For myself and now Keith as well, I bump the ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and garam masala up by 1 teaspoon each.
The key to not ending up with soggy chicken is to elevate it by placing it on a rack. A cookie cooling rack will do fine. Line the baking tray with plenty of foil and you won't even have to clean the pan afterwards.
For those that are fans of Indian flavours, I'd recommend bumping up the ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and garam masala by a teaspoon each. Since you will not actually be eating most of the marinade, I highly recommend full-fat yogurt. But, in a pinch, low-fat will be okay. If you like more heat, increase the cayenne pepper. I have used as much as 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon, but even I must admit that that is a bit much. Basting the chicken with the leftover marinade leaves more of the spices hugging the chicken when it is done. This is not essential though.
- 1 cup full-fat yoghurt (see summary above)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
- 4 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon cumin powder
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala
- 2 pounds chicken drumsticks (or wings)
- Cooking spray
- Mix: Place all the marinade ingredients into a non-reactive (glass or stainless steel) bowl big enough to hold all the chicken. Whisk to combine until there are no streaks of spices or lumps in the yoghurt.
- Marinate: Dip the chicken into the marinade, massaging the marinade into the pieces so they are completely coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place into the refrigerator. Marinate the chicken for a minimum of 3 hours and up to 24 hours. If you remember to, give the chicken a stir once so all parts of the chicken are exposed to the marinade equally.
- Bake: Move an oven rack to the upper third of the oven, and preheat to 350 F. Double-line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminium foil and place a metal rack in it. If your metal rack is not non-stick, then give it a quick sprtiz with cooking spray. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade (don't discard the marinade yet) and spread them in a single layer on the rack. Try to keep a little space between the pieces for the air to circulate. Bake for 20 minutes. Baste the chicken with leftover marinade, turn, and baste the other side as well. Bake for another 15-20 minutes. If you are using chicken wings instead of drumsticks, check them on the earlier side.
- Broil: Remove baking sheet from the oven, and turn the oven to broil. Flip the chicken pieces one last time and baste with more leftover marinade. Give the chicken a quick gloss with the cooking spray, and broil for 2-5 minutes. Keep a close eye on the chicken during the this step. DO NOT WALK AWAY. You may need to pull the chicken out sooner if you have a better oven than I do.