Is there a 4th of July in India?
Well, the obvious answer is “yes”. After all, what happens between the 3rd and 5th of July? While the 4th of July isn’t a massive celebratory day the way the US has, I wanted to use this weekend to get a little more creative than the typical barbecue cuisine usually prepared in the US.
Years ago, my older brother and I were employed in a dotcom startup. Outside of us and three other employees, pretty much all of the staff were of Indian descent. They were great people who exposed us to their culture and cuisine whenever we would go out for lunch. Tikka masala, curry chicken and the delightful dessert of gulab jamuns were all on the menu; but it was the unique Tandoori Chicken that I always remember most.
To the average person, Tandoori Chicken basically looks like broiled chicken colored in a distinctively bright red color. It’s not a subtle color either. As unique as the color is the flavor. At first bite you might be surprised at the culture shock and the spicy taste, but like most Indian food, it’s an acquired taste.
The dish traces its origins to a man named Kundan Lal Gujral. A restaurateur in the 1920s, he had an establishment in the city of Peshawar named Moti Mahal. When the partition of India occurred in the late 1940s, Gujral fled the widespread violence in the region and made a new home and business in Delhi. Always looking to innovate and create interest in his food, Gujral seasoned and cooked chicken in a Tandoor, a bell-shaped clay oven normally used to bake naan bread.
Gujral’s chicken recipe became the talk of the town as even the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, loved it so much that he had Gujral make it officially for royal banquets. Leaders from all over the world would dine on Tandoori Chicken upon visiting. Thus the dish became widespread and popular in Indian cuisine.
The secret of the color in the dish has been disputed. Some chefs simply feel a combination of chili powder and cayenne pepper can create the color, others use a special red tandoor powder. Many more simply use food coloring.
For my own attempt, I did not want to use food coloring, as it’s not the healthiest choice. I also wanted to create this dish using ingredients most of you can easily find. I could get tandoor powder at the local International markets, but I don’t know if these markets are readily available around the world. So we’ll keep things simple. The only unique seasoning you’ll need to locate is cardamom. Everything else should be readily available all over. I’ll also forewarn you to allocate time for this dish, as you’ll need to marinate it for at least eight hours.
Let’s begin our journey…
- 3 lbs of chicken, skinned and trimmed of visible fat
- 1 tbsp of granulated garlic
- 1 tbsp of ground cumin
- 1 tbsp of ginger
- 2 tsp of paprika
- 2 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of coriander
- 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp of ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp of cardamon
- 1/4 tsp of pepper
- 1/2 cup of plain fat-free yogurt
- 2 tbsp of lemon juice
- If you’re making kebobs like I did, simply slice the chicken up into small pieces. If you’re using whole pieces (white or dark meat), cut slashes into the flesh about 1/4″ deep.
- In a small bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (garlic, ginger, cumin, paprika, salt, coriander, cardamon, cloves, cayenne and black pepper) and stir together.
- Select a container to marinate the chicken in. Place the yogurt and lemon juice in and stir together.
- Add in the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly.
- Place the chicken into the mixture and coat thoroughly.
- Cover the container and place in the refrigerator for at least eight hours, but no longer than two days.
- After marinating, heat up the broiler on high.
- Remove the chicken from the marinate and shake a few times to release excess marinate from the meat.
- Place the chicken on a broiler pan or rack, and cook for 15 minutes.
- Turn the chicken over and cook another 15 minutes, or until done.
As I said before (and you can see), my chicken did not turn out the bright red that one normally sees. If this is important to you, then I suggest you invest in some red food color.
The kind of chicken you use is up to you. I used boneless skinless breasts, but you can also use a whole chicken or pieces of light or dark meat.
You can also grill this chicken, just make sure you can close the lid and only have the vents open. You want to be able to enclose the chicken much like you want in a tandoor.