Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori Chicken

By Cat, July 2008 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

If you’ve ever eaten in an East-Indian buffet, you’ve undoubtedly seen, if not sampled, tandoori chicken.  It’s the stuff that looks lobster-red, and it tastes uncannily cool and hot at the same time. Traditionally the chicken was baked in a tandoor (clay or metal cylindrical oven set over a wood fire), and hence its name. But even if you bake it in a modern oven, it’s delicious.

Tandoori Chicken (About)

Originally, Tandoori Chicken’s color came from the spices, or curries, used to flavor it: cayenne (red), paprika (red-orange) and/or turmeric (orange). The spices need to be very fresh in order to provide the most color. Over the years, the color has been augmented by the addition of red food coloring, something probably not so good for your health.  Instead, I tried using concentrated beet juice to dye the chicken red, but that didn’t work as well as anticipated. Now I just don’t worry about the red color and just enjoy the flavor.

Garam Masala, a curry blend

Garam Masala, a curry blend

Key to the traditional flavor are plain unsweetened yogurt, ginger-garlic paste, lime (or lemon) juice, a curry called gram masala (photo, left, from Wikimedia Commons), red chili powder, cayenne pepper, and various other spices to your own preference (cumin, coriander, clove, cardamom, fenugreek, turmeric). See also Herbs & Spices: curries

The yogurt-based marinade should be thick so that it will cling to the chicken pieces; therefore, you will want to use a thick yogurt, such as plain Greek Yogurt.

If you make your own yogurt, you will have a thicker end-product if you add 1 Tbsp powdered dry milk to the milk before heating; however, I prefer not to use dried milk because it is highly processed and not very healthful. Instead, I scoop yogurt into a fine-mesh filter and set it over a bowl or jar in the fridge for a couple hours to drain off some of the whey (see Yogurt Cream Cheese & Liquid Whey for details, but keep it in the fridge to keep the yogurt from turning into yogurt cheese).

I provide two different recipes for Tandoori Chicken here.  The first is adapted from two sources:  Home cooking (about) (2), and  a YouTube video by Indian chef Sanjay (3)(vahrehvah.com).  This is probably more authentic and flavorful.  The second is adapted from Better Homes and Garden Cookbook (1); it is quicker and easier to prepare, but not as flavorful.

Tandoori Chicken I

This recipe, adapted from Home cooking (about) (2) and a VahRehVah.com video (3), uses a hot spice rub to penetrate the depths of the meaty pieces, and then a thick marinade to provide the flavored coating. Until I found this recipe, I used the recipe from my Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook (see Tandoori-Style Chicken II recipe below), and if you’re in a hurry, that is a reasonable approximation. But if you have the time, it is well-worth it to make the real deal (this recipe).

You can use commercial garam masala, or make your own.  You can also use more garam masala and less of the additional spices.  Have fun experimenting.

You could use chicken breasts, or a mix of breast and legs, but the dark leg meat is preferred in India. Brine breasts before marinating; this dish cooks at a high temperature that would otherwise totally dry out the breast meat.  Brining helps hold the moisture.

Every time I make this dish, it just keeps getting better; the accompaniments add to the whole experience.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • Spice Rub:
  • 1 Tbsp red chili powder
  • ½ Tbsp unrefined sea salt
  • ½ fresh lime or lemon (for the juice)
  • Marinade:
  • 2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger root
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh garlic
  • pinch unrefined sea salt
  • 6 Tbsp plain, unsweetened yogurt  (thickened)
  • 1 – 2 tsp red chili powder, or ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ – 1 tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp fenugreek leaf powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • ½ fresh lime or lemon (for the juice)
  • olive oil
  • Chicken:
  • 6 chicken legs (drumstick and thigh), skinned or not
  • 2 large carrots, cut in 1″ lengths
  • 2 -3 stalks celery, cut in 1″ lengths
  • Equipment:
  • sharp knife
  • small bowl
  • large bowl
  • 13 x 9 x 2″ baking pan


  1. Spice rub:  Combine chili powder and salt; squeeze juice over, and mix in.
  2. Skin chicken; cut long slashes into fleshy parts of thigh and drumstick, down to the bone, both sides of the pieces.  Cuts should be mostly lengthwise.  
  3. Work the rub into the slashes you cut into the chicken pieces.  Set aside.
  4. Marinade:  Place grated ginger and minced garlic in a mortar; sprinkle a pinch of salt over, then pound to a paste with the pestle.
  5. Stir the ginger/garlic paste into the yogurt in large bowl.  Add remaining spices, squeezed lime juice, and mix well. Stir in beet juice, one drop at a time until desired color is reached. (if using).
  6. Thoroughly coat all chicken pieces with the yogurt mixture by adding each piece to the bowl and working the marinade around each piece with your hand, until all pieces have been added to bowl and are well coated.
  7. Drizzle olive oil over all.
  8. Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 8 hours, or overnight.
  9. BakePreheat over to 400° – 450°F.
  10. Scrub carrots and celery and cut into 1″ lengths.  Scatter around bottom of baking pan.  
  11. Lay marinated chicken pieces over the bed of veggies (they create moisture to penetrate the chicken, and keep the chicken pieces out of the fat drippings).
  12. Bake in hot preheated oven, until tender and falling from bones.  In my oven this takes about 60 minutes for dark meat, 45 minutes for breast.  OR  bake at 400° – 450°F for 10 – 15 minutes on each side; then reduce heat to a more moderate oven (325° – 350°F) for a longer cooking time, This should reduce the amount of carcinogenic chemicals that form as the meat chars at high heat.
  13. Remove from baking pan; compost the veggies (or save for use in a curry dish).
  14. Prepare to Serve:  Coarsely chop ½ cup onions.  Then choose one of the following:
  • Heat grill. Place baked chicken pieces on grill; Sprinkle with onions and drizzle a bit of lime juice over all.  Cook about 2 minutes.  Remove chicken to serving platter and scatter cooked onions over.  Serve.
  • Saute onions in a bit of hot olive oil, sprinkling onions with a bit of the leftover chili rub, until they just begin to wilt.  Placed baked chicken pieces on serving platter and sprinkle sauteed onions over all.

Serving ideas: see below

Testing Tandoori Chicken I

Testing 8/7/08:  Made as written with following exceptions:  did not use beet juice (had no beets); used just thighs and did not remove skin; used broiling pan in addition to bed of carrots to provide moisture and keep meat out of the drippings. The prep went surprisingly quickly.  Chilled marinated meat 32 hours.  Result:  Chicken wonderfully flavorful and moist.  I served this with Cauliflower Curry, Cucumber Raita and Steamed Brown Rice.  Garnished with grated desiccated (unsweetened) coconut.

Tandoori-Style Chicken II

This recipe is adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (1), and is a much simpler recipe and takes much less time, than the version above.  The original recipe called for paprika and crushed dried red peppers, but I prefer to use chili powder, plus cayenne if I want more heat.  It also doesn’t include a chili/salt rub (as used in the first recipe), but you could certainly add that.  I do like the cardamom flavor.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 6 chicken legs (drumstick and thigh), skinned
  • ½ tsp water
  • ⅓ tsp dry mustard
  • 1 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt (thickened)
  • ¼ cup lime or lemon juice
  • ½ Tbsp unrefined sea salt
  • ½ Tbsp red chili powder
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne (or more, to taste; optional)
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 or more cloves garlic, crushed
  • Equipment: large bowl
  • 13 x 9 x 2″ baking pan


  1. Place chicken in large bowl.
  2. Mix water and mustard; stir in remaining ingredients.  Pour over chicken; turn pieces to coat well.  
  3. Cover and refrigerate at least 12 hours, but no longer than 24 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  5. Remove chicken from marinade.  Place pieces in un-greased baking dish (or place over a loose bed of carrots and celery, as in above recipe).
  6. Bake in preheated oven until done, about 45 minutes.
  7. If desired, finish cooking on grill, as described in previous recipe.

Serving ideas

  • Serve with Yogurt Sauce or Cucumber Raita, slices of cucumber, and wedges of lime or lemon.  
  • Add a curry veggie dish like Cauliflower Curry, to which you can add the carrot/celery pieces used in baking the chicken, if desired), or fresh spinach sauteed with garlic in ghee or olive oil.
  • Accompany with freshly made Naanand/or steamed brown or white basmatti or jasmine rice.
  • Serve with a salad (similar to Tabouli) of bulgur and chopped tomatoes, onions and mint, and a simple vinaigrette.
  • See also A Curry Feast for more ideas.


  1. Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
  2. Homecooking (About) recipe (homecooking.about.com/od/chickenrecipes/r/blchicken2.htm)
  3. YouTube video by Indian chef Sanjay (vahrehvah.com)


About Cat

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