Tandoori Chicken

Indian meal

Here you will find information on tandoor clay ovens and a delightful tandoori chicken recipe, which I first made in one of my cooking classes in the early 1980’s.

Tandoor Oven Described

If made authentically in India, this chicken dish (which originated in the Punjabi region of the Indian subcontinent) is cooked in the bell-shaped tandoor clay oven; this oven is also used to make the Indian flatbread naan.  This is a cylindrical clay oven, which sets in the earth and is fired with wood or charcoal; it may also rest above the ground.  1

Where the Tandoor Oven Is Used and Its Origins

The tandoor oven is used for cooking in the following Asian regions: Southern Asia (including India), Central Asia (including some former Soviet republics), and Western Asia (thirteen of the twenty countries-fully or partly located here-are of the Arab world) and the South Caucasus.  2

In India and Pakistan, tandoori cooking became popular, when the Punjabis (from the northern part of the Indian subcontinent) embraced their traditional tandoori cooking on a regional level;  this can be seen, after the 1947 partition, when Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus resettled in such places as Delhi.   Therefore, Indians and Pakistanis traditionally associate the tandoor with the Punjabis.  3

In Azerbaijan, the tandoor oven is called a tandir, while in Armenia, it is known as a tonir, which is underground here.  4

How a Tandoor Oven Works

Burning grasses, charcoal, or wood produces the heat in the traditional tandoor oven.   Smaller electric tandoors, however, are found in some homes, especially in America; larger electrical tandoors are used commercially (see https://www.puritandoors.com/ for purchasing).

These fires within the traditional, cylindrical ovens produce a combination of live fire cooking, radiant heat cooking and hot-air, convection cooking, as well as smoking-caused by the fat dripping on the charcoal or wood.  The temperatures soar to 900 degrees F (480 degrees C); these temperatures are maintained, by the fires left burning for long periods of time.  5

The tandoor design makes the transition between a makeshift earth oven and the horizontal-plan masonry oven.  Earth ovens were communal long ago, being pits dug in the ground with smoldering wood, cooking all the family’s meals within the community.  These earth ovens were eventually lifted out of the ground, and with time, they became masonry-brick or stone-ovens.  Initially in Asia, they, however, transitioned into the tandoor ovens, which being made smaller were used by individual families.  In this way, the tandoor was created, using grasses and wood to generate the heat to cook meat and vegetables within, while flatbreads were slapped directly on the hot clay walls.  6

The heat within a tandoor is generated, by a convection current created inside, as cold air is taken in through a hole at the bottom of the tandoor. As the cold air hits the fire, it warms up, and becomes less dense, circulating up inside the cylinder.  The air previously at the top has cooled down some, and it falls back to the fire.  This convection heat is energy transferred through currents, or in this case air currents.  In turn, a process known as radiation takes place, with the clay of the oven slowly beginning to absorb and emit some of this ambient, circulating, insulated heat.  7

Etymology of the Word Tandoor

According to Wikipedia, the English tandoor comes from Hindi/Urdu tandur, which in turn comes from Persian tanur; all these names mean (clay) oven.  The Dehkhoda Persian Dictionary states that this Persian word was derived from the Akkadian word tinuru, and that this word tinuru consists of the parts tin, or mud, and nuro/nura, meaning fire.  8

Making Your Own Tandoori Oven

There are numerous versions for making your own tandoor oven found on YouTube.  Primitive Life Reborn has a great video on how to make a primitive, mud tandoor-see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSCNQ0bGolY  A less traditional, but easier design, is given at https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Tandoor-(Clay)-Oven

Background of My Recipe

My original 1980’s receipt included red food coloring, as the spicy hot tandoori chicken in Southern, Central, and Western Asia was reddish in color, due to the abundant spices in it (cayenne pepper, red chili powder, etc.).  Along with the optional food coloring, my milder recipe from the early eighties, included instructions for the barbecuing, broiling, or baking of the poultry, as tandoors were not in abundance in the U.S. back then, as they are today.

In America, “Indian summer” meals are highlighted with barbecues; you may, however, have this prized electric appliance in your home, or even a home-made tandoori oven, thus providing the option of making this receipt the traditional way.  If not, try barbequing, broiling, or in a pinch, baking it-all these instructions are below.

Applied Lesson

A few of the restrictions brought on by Covid-19 may seem to have settled some.  Back in the spring, life appeared to be drastically changed, but now things may no longer appear to be ‘hot as an oven’-and tandoori ovens get up to 900 degrees F (480 degrees C).

A semblance of order seems to have been restored, since the early March outbreak of this virus and all its complications.  Nevertheless, we take nothing for granted, but remain alert.  The word of God instructs us:

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”    1 Peter 5: 8, 9.  (King James Bible)

To be sober is to be clear-headed, or alert, while vigilance requires circumspection, or being cautious about what we say or do.

We know that our thoughts form the basis of our spoken words and actions; thus, it is imperative that we tend to our thought life carefully.  If we do not, we can unknowingly give Satan access to come into our lives with his destructive ways; this can take place as we let our thoughts play out in words and actions that inadvertently lead to damage.

Through his mercy and grace, our Redeemer Jesus aids us in this, when we ask him to; therefore, we do not mistakenly commit sins of ignorance, or worse yet those of commission, which have consequences of destruction in the natural.

In this way, hell’s heat cannot touch us!

Enjoy my hot-from-the-oven tandoori chicken recipe below.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tandoor and https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/tandoori_chicken/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tandoor
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. http://www.renegadekitchen.com/blog/diy-tandoor-oven
  7. Ibid.
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tandoor

­

tandoori chicken

Tandoori Chicken  Yields: 6 servings.  Active prep time: 1 hr/  Cooking time: 30 min/  Inactive prep time for marinating: 9 1/2 hr.

6 thigh/leg parts  (Our local Fred Meyer sells seasoned thigh/leg pieces at the meat counter, but you will want to ask for unseasoned ones, for $1.29/lb.  They also carry a pre-packaged Heritage Brand, with 4-5 pieces in a package for $1.09/lb.)

2 tbsp lemon juice, divided

1 1/2 tsp salt, divided

8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine

2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 tsp ground cardamom, or 1 1/2 tsp seeds

1/2 tsp garam masala

1/3 tsp ground cumin, or 1/2 tsp seeds

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp red food coloring, optional

2 c plain, whole milk yogurt  (I prefer Sierra Nevada Grass-fed, Whole Milk Yogurt, as it is thick, rich, and most healthy; another option is plain Greek yogurt.)

  1. cutting five to six gashes in chicken

    If frozen, thaw chicken two days ahead in the refrigerator.

  2. Nine and a half hours before serving, or better yet a day ahead, remove skin from chicken and cut five to six deep gashes in each piece, cutting all the way through the meat (see photo above).
  3. In a small bowl, mix 1 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp salt.  Rub each piece with this mixture and place in a pan, covering loosely with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for one and a half hours.
  4. cover thigh/legs with sauce

    With a mortar and pestle, food processor or blender, pulverize: garlic, ginger, cardamom, garam masala, cumin, cayenne pepper, and remaining 1/2 tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt.

  5. Mix yogurt, spices, and optional food coloring.  Spoon sauce over the front and back sides of each piece of chicken, covering well; lay in a pan and spoon more sauce on top of these thigh/legs.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator for eight hours-or overnight.  See above photo.
  6. finished product

    Cook over charcoal, in tandoori oven or BBQ.  May also cook under a broiler for 25-35 minutes, or until done.  A final option is to bake this in 400-degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until there are no red juices present, when a knife is inserted in center.  See photo.

  7. Enjoy!

1960’s Josephines (a great hors d’ouvres)

Join me on a journey to the mysterious wonder-world of childhood foods with these josephines. which boast of green chillies.  At the end of this entry, I will explore the historical Pakistani  and Indian applications of chillies in their respective cuisines.

We can all relate to the thrilling memories of our particular favorites from mom’s best; these captivated our young hearts with taste thrills in our mouths, as well as simultaneous, soft sensations in our stomachs.  When faced with like foods today, we instantly return to these initial impulses from the treasuries of our early experiences.  Such comes to me double-fold, for not only did my mother supply these rich impressions, but my father-also a great cook-left indelible culinary marks on my soul.  Mom applied her expertise to the hosting of dinner parties, while Dad skillfully prepared food in our family’s restaurant-it was here we ate all our daily meals, while I was growing up.

Both parents were self-taught.  My mother lacked the normal advantages of learning cooking from her mother, who died of cancer when Mom was 11 years old (her father passed on two years later).  Hence being raised by nuns at a boarding school, she didn’t receive the normal, gracious “passing-down” of womanly skills; rather these were hard-won for her.

josephines

Everything Mom put her hand to, however, she mastered, for she knew the importance of “pressing-in” ardently-a trait I learned first-hand.  This included cooking in which she particularly excelled.  I grew up amidst the flurry of her entertaining many guests with gourmet foods.  She was always baking Irish oatmeal bread to go with her many feasts, often with foreign themes; this at a time when America was eating Spam, jello, canned vegetables, and the perpetual, “miraculous” Crisco.  (The history of shortening is in 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies, while that of canning can be found at Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad.)

On the other hand, my grandparents, on my father’s side, lived in a small house just behind our home, allowing for their constant, close presence.  Grandma was a fantastic cook, accomplishing all by a sense of feel, with no recipes needed-a handful of this, a pinch of that.  Nevertheless as with Mom’s maternal experience, Dad didn’t learn his methods from her, but rather his schooling was provided by a gigantic industrial cook book, brought to our restaurant by a traveling salesman in the early 1960’s (see Buzz’ Blue Cheese Dressing).

These heart-imprints, established as a result of my father’s disciplined efforts, literally soar when I presently encounter light buttermilk pancakes, exceptional potato salad, or a good doughnut, for these were institutions in his establishment; thus, such soul foods provide me with a quick transport back to the mid-twentieth century.

For me these Mexican-inspired Josephines carry this same weight, with recollections from Mom’s culinary domain.  Hors d’ouvres were always a part of her feasts; this being one of our favorites.

As mentioned, 1960’s cooking employed lots of canned foods, with this recipe being no exception, as it calls for canned green chillies; originally this vegetable made its way from America to Europe, and beyond, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Chilli peppers were first introduced in India by the Portuguese, where they added heat to curries.  Curry is actually an English name, derived from the Tamil word kari, meaning “sauce”; thus, our English word indicates the basic Indian method of preparing food, utilizing their ever-present sauces.

Red and green chilies have long been present in both Hindu Indian and Muslim Pakistani cuisines.  These social groups existed together in Kashmir for most of the 400 years prior to the 1947 formation of Muslim Pakistan; here both cultures relied on the basic dish of rice and either kohlrabi or a vegetable similar to our spring greens, which was flavored with red and green chilies.  The Muslims enhanced this with garlic, while the Hindus added hing (asafoetidfa), distinguishing the two styles of preparing this food.  A more marked difference in their diets, however, resided in the ratio of meat to vegetables, with Hindus eating far more vegetables than meat, while Muslims did the opposite.

This American receipt calls for chillies, long present in world cookery; not being fresh, these reflect the popularity of canned goods in the 20th century.  Enjoy the ease of this hors d’ouvres with its great taste.  Note: my niece Cammie retains our family’s fond memory, by creatively using goat cheese and gluten-free bread here, to meet her dietary needs.  One way or the other, you will never forget this taste-treat!

References:

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p, 271.

James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), pp. 87, 88.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chili_pepper

https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/65202/what-was-indian-food-like-before-the-arrival-of-the-chilli-from-south-america

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir

finished product

Josephines  Yields: about 1 1/2 dozen.  Total prep time: 45 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 25-30 min.  Note: may make cheese/mayo mixture ahead, to have on hand in refrigerator.

1 c aged, grated cheddar cheese  (It is preferable to not use packaged shredded cheese; Mom always grated Sharp Cracker Barrel; I use imported, aged cheddars.)

1 c mayonnaise  (Best Foods is of high quality.)

1-7 oz can diced green chillies

easy grating of cheese in food processor

Tabasco sauce, about 8 vigorous shakes, or to taste

3/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is so important for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1 loaf French bread  (Trader Joe’s sells an ideal, organic 11.5-oz baguette for $1.99; this spread is enough for 2 baguettes.)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grate cheese by hand, or with grating attachment for food processor (see photo above).
  3. Mix cheese and mayonnaise in a bowl; may store this in refrigerator in a sterile container for months.
  4. Add drained chillies, Tabasco, and salt to cheese mixture; set aside.
  5. bread spread with cheese/mayo mixture

    Split loaf of bread in half lengthwise, place halves on cookie sheet split-side up, and evenly spoon cheese spread on these surfaces (see photo).

  6. Bake in hot oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).
  7. Cool slightly, cut,  and serve.  These are dynamite!