Chicken Tandoori is undoubtedly the most popular Indian delicacy across the world. Yet, the history of Chicken Tandoori recipe dates back only to 1920. It is first known to have been prepared in a Peshwari restaurant named Moti Mahal (now in Pakistan) by an experimental chef Mr. Gurjal. The popularity of chicken tandoori is largely attributed to prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru who was so fascinated with the recipe that he made it a regular item at official banquets, making it an instant hit among national and international political dignitaries. It was one of the first Indian delicacies to gain international acclaim, and, therefore, it is not surprising that tandoori chicken should become the brand ambassador of Indian cuisine in the West.
The name tandoori chicken comes from its method of cooking. A tandoor is traditionally a wood or charcoal-fired clay oven that exposes food to live-fire and convection cooking. The temperature in a tandoor can reach up to 480 °C (900 °F). Exposure to this extreme heat turns the chicken crispy on the outside while it remains soft and juicy inside. The oily yogurty chicken tandoori marinade dripping on to the charcoal creates smoke inside the oven rendering the succulent chicken pieces a smoky flavor. The fiery red color of tandoori chicken comes from a mix of several chili powders, although most modern recipes use red food coloring.
Since tandoor ovens are essentially a commercial commodity, tandoori chicken is typically an eat-out item. You will be hard-pressed to find a family recipe for tandoori chicken because it is difficult to imitate the results of a tandoor oven in a typical Indian kitchen. And since we don’t bake (most of our bread are flatbreads that are made on stovetop griddles), convection ovens are a rare commodity in Indian family kitchens. Furthermore, you wouldn’t necessarily want to go through the trouble of making tandoori chicken in India, since it is a fairly common item in most Indian eateries. But modern kitchens with their convection ovens and broilers can easily emulate an authentic chicken tandoori recipe.
Now, this recipe requires a long list of ingredients. If you are only beginning to learn Indian cooking you may not have many of these ingredients in your pantry. But the good news is that if you plan on continuing your excitement and interest in Indian cooking, this list will prove indispensable. However, you may choose to use ready-made chicken tandoori masala or seasonings and “curry powders” if you are unwilling to invest in the spices.
I have a tendency to barge into kitchens of restaurants I eat at, when in India, and endlessly question the chefs about the recipes and ingredients, although seldom without reproach and blatant refusals. But that has hardly weakened my resolve. I wrote this chicken tandoori recipe after talking to two chefs and enduring many rebukes in two Kolkata dhabas. However, I have tried the recipe several times and I regret those dhaba-kitchen visits no longer. I hope you like the recipe as much as I, my family, and friends do.
Do try and let me know how it went!
How to make chicken tandoori at home?
- The most important thing is picking out the right chicken for chicken tandoori. It’s best to use bone-in, skinless thighs and legs because they have enough fat so as not to dry out the chicken as it cooks in very high heat for a long time.
- Pat the chicken pieces dry, make a few incisions and set aside.
- Make the first marinade by mixing lime juice, chili powder, and salt.
- Rub the cleaned chicken pieces with this lime and chili rub. Let rest for 30 minutes. When marinating chicken with acid-based marinates, it’s important to not let the chicken marinate for more than 2-3 hours. And always keep the chicken in the fridge while marinating.
- In another big bowl, mix yogurt, all the dry spices, garlic and ginger, seasonings, cheese, oil, lime juice. Mix it well. Pick out a high-fat yogurt and make sure there’s very little moisture in it. Greek yogurt or hung yogurt works best.
- Add the chicken pieces to this marinade for 2 more hours. Chicken tandooris get their characteristic hues from red food colors, but it is totally optional.
- Grill the chicken following the instructions included in the recipe card.
- People always ask if tandoori chicken is healthy. The answer to that is that it depends on the meat one is using. Tandoori Chicken is a healthy dish when using a lean meat like breast chicken. And since it is grilled using very little oil, the recipe of tandoori chicken can be healthy.
Watch the detailed instructional video included below.
- 8 Chicken legs
- 2 tbsp lime/lemon juice
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp red chili powder
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt or hung yogurt
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- 2 tsp chili powder preferably a mix of Kashmiri red chili powder and hot red chili powder
- ½ tsp turmeric powder optional
- 1 tsp black pepper powder
- 1 tbsp chaat masala powder
- 1 tbsp garlic paste
- 1 tbsp ginger paste
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp garam masala powder optional
- 1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves optional
- 1 tbsp oil
- ¼ cup grated cheese optional
- A few drops of red food coloring optional
- Salt to taste
- Make 2-3 incisions on each piece of chicken. Mix the ingredients from the 1st marinade–lime juice, salt and chili powder; rub the 1st marinade thoroughly on the chicken pieces, and refrigerate for 15 mins. If you are not used to handling chilies then do wear gloves, or use a brush! It might seem like a lot of chili powder, but the acidity from the lime juice is going to cut down the heat.
- In another bowl mix the ingredients for the 2nd marinade, and marinate the chicken in this mixture for another 45 mins.
- Preheat over to 400°F.
- Arrange the chicken pieces on a well greased flat baking tray, or over a greased wire rack that sits on a deep baking tray. This arrangement makes sure that the chicken cooks evenly on all sides, and that it does not soak in the drippings while grilling, which would compromise the texture of the tandooris and wouldn’t give it the desired char.
- Cook the chicken for 30 mins.
- Then change the oven setting to high broil, and cook the chicken pieces for 5-6 minutes on each side. Keep checking every 3 minutes to avoid excessive charring.
- Serve with green cilantro and mint chutney and sliced red onions or pickled onions. Chicken tandooris can also be served as the main course over a bed of buttered basmati rice.
- Do try and let me know how it went!