“Half memoir, half travel, A Yank Back to England...is an absolutely wonderful book, not only about going home again but also about love and family and tradition and the passage of the years.”
—Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic (Washington
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

As American as... tandoori on the grill

Indian food is as English as bangers and mash, probably the best vestige of the British Raj. There’s nothing quite like the scent of basmati rice spiked with cloves and silky threads of saffron perfuming the air. But, much to Mum’s chagrin, sometimes I deviate from pukkah curry and sample other exotic Indian dishes. And sometimes I even prepare them.

After tasting tandoori chicken for the first time, I was shown a tandoori oven, a large clay contraption that is shaped like a medieval oubliette and fired up to a heat that far exceeds conventional ovens. Marinated chickens are skewered onto large iron spears and quickly thrust in. Then the chef jumps back! The heat is so intense, the birds are cooked in just eight to ten minutes. Quite amazing. Not possessing a tandoor, for years I only ever had this exquisite dish in restaurants—until I came to America and discovered the grill. You can of course try setting your oven to the highest possible temperature, but it’s so delicious this way! And in the height of summer who wants to heat up the kitchen heating? So the grill it is—perfect for the Fourth of July!

My recipe
First a word of caution: The chicken must marinate in lovely spices and juices for at least 24 hours. So definitely do ahead food—but worth it!

Let us begin. Hack up a chicken into eight pieces, thighs, drumsticks, wings, and breasts. You may cut the breasts in half if they are particularly fulsome. Now skin the chicken. You see, healthy already! Then, psycho-style, slash deep gashes into the meat with a sharp knife. Place pieces in a glass dish, top with squeezed lemon juice and sprinkle with garlic powder. Most recipes call for salt but for health concerns I use garlic instead and no one knows ever notices. Now put the dish in the fridge and let the chicken grow acquainted with the lemon and garlic while you make the spice mix.

You can buy a prepared tandoori spice mix, such as Sharwoods, but if you have access to an enlightened supermarket or an Asian market you can easily make your own. With the leftover spices you’ll have new and exotic flavors and aromas ready for future feasts! You’ll need
2 teaspoons each of: Garam Marsala, cumin, garlic powder, ginger powder, onion powder, and paprika. If you like a bit of heat, add hot chili powder, but I never do. You can also exchange fresh ginger and garlic for the powdered stuff but I never bother. Mix spices together. Add 3 tablespoons of yogurt (I use non-fat) and 3 tablespoons of malt vinegar. This is called fish’n chip vinegar over here. And yes, I enjoy spraying my fries with the stuff, if only to see my family run off in horror and disgust. But I digress. If you cannot locate said condiment, use cider or apple vinegar. Most recipes also call for 3-4 tablespoons of oil in the mix. I’ve tried it with and without and found no noticeable difference, so I don’t use the oil and feel quite virtuous about it. Also add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. Now mix a bit of red and yellow food coloring and tip it into the mixture. This gives the dish its traditional reddish orangey color, not essential but quite festive.

Retrieve chickkie from fridge and coat every bit of meat with the spice mix. Make sure you get some into the various slits and exposed pieces of bone. Cover with plastic wrap and pop back in the fridge overnight. I made this once and forgot about it for 48 hours–tasted even better, but it’s not necessary. But leaving it overnight is important.

And the next day… fire up your grill
If, like me, you have a Weber-type grill, bank up the coals on one side. When the embers are good and hot, place your chicken pieces on the grill, directly over the coals. Do not cover. Sear the chicken for a few minutes on each side, turning, turning. Watch the meat like a hawk. You want tiny black flecks on the flesh but that’s all. After a few minutes, put the chicken as far away from the coals as possible and cover the grill. Let the chicken cook another 10 minutes for the breast and 15 for the legs and thighs.

Place the finished product on a bed of lettuce and fresh cilantro/coriander, squeeze some lemon juice onto the chicken—this is quite important—decorate with lemon wedges, and you're done. Serve with a mint raita, a yoghurt-cucumber mixture.

As you see in the piccy, this dish looks spectacular. It also tastes wonderful, smells exotic, and it’s quite healthy! So head East, young blogger, go feast and feel good about it! Definitely the pukkah way to eat fowl––even the memsahib likes it!


Michelloui said...

Wow, that photo is great and Im sure the food was even better! We just bought a new bbq and besides the usual bbq food have only managed chicken kebabs marinated in a version of tikka. This is a great idea and will suggest it to my essex man soon. We make a lot of curries and although we dont live close to an enlightened supermarket I am able to get most things from this site: http://www.spicesofindia.co.uk/ Not sure how far they deliver...

smitten by britain said...

Oh thanks Prodigal, I'll pass the recipe on to my husband who is the cook in the family. You can't get between a man and his grill. Your right about curry being as English as B & M, in fact it is Britain's most popular food now. But I never cared for curry, I was always a chicken tikka girl but since plain chicken tikka (not chicken tikka marsala) is difficult to find around me I've had to settle for tandoori chicken. The one thing I can't get my mitts on is a true onion bhaji.

The Prodigal Tourist said...

Michelloui--BBQ in England? How times change! Will check out the site, thanks, but we have a wonderful Indian bazaar just a mile away, so lovely. In a pinch, use 2-3 Tbsps. of Sharwood, it does the trick!
Smitten--totally agree about a man and his grill! One of my favorite things about living in the burbs, actually. And none of this sissy gas stuff, give me a real fire! Hope the hubcap gives this a try, it's really good.

parTea lady said...

This receipe sounds spectacular and it looks so good in your photo. I have never tried this dish, but one time an Indian friend make me some chicken biryani.

Amy said...

You get rid of the skin?! ::cries::

If you could come and cook it for me, that would be great. ;-)

The Prodigal Tourist said...

You don't really miss the skin. Hard to believe, I know, but even the wife agrees, and she loves skin.

Duchess of Tea said...

Many thanks for stopping by my cottage and for the lovely comment you left, very kind of you. I visited your site also and love love what you have posted, your chicken post make me so hungry. I love Indian food and make it often. I will try this one, my version is a little different, I think yours is better. I just joined as a follower and will link to you site. Please drop by again and next time, if you have a moment please sign up as a follower to my blog, I will sincerely it. I am new at blogging and love to increase my follower base so that I can spread my love of tea.

The Prodigal Tourist said...

Your Grace--delighted to follow your blog, walking down your pages is like walking down an enchanted lane. And of course, we're honored to welcome a true blue duchess to our humble pages!

Maggie said...

OMG_ this sounds AMAZING and it's something even I could make. Hell, I could make it on my GEORGE! or learn to use the actual grill- which is a summertime goal- and do it there. Sounds so lovely and the picture looks good enough to eat.