This is one of those recipes I thought I’d posted a year or so ago – but hadn’t.
I’ve made this twice earlier this season, but the first time my grill didn’t get hot enough so I didn’t pursue the write-up further. The second time was last weekend, but since I was in a hurry I didn’t 1) marinate it quite long enough and 2) didn’t remove the skin from the drumsticks. It didn’t seem to me that that particular session was worthy of a write-up, or photography. But the charcoal heat was intense enough, and the flavors came through.
So… I’m doing a third try this season! (And this season is still mighty young!)
I seriously prefer dark meat to white meat, and especially so on the grill, where it is all-too-easy to dry the latter out beyond description. (Okay, I can describe that; I’d just rather not…) Since I simply just prefer the dark to begin with, for grilling I’ll just buy that, as long as I’m not also cooking for a white meat fanatic.
(If I’d be roasting a whole bird all together as a whole bird, I’d also buy that, and indeed at some point I’ll be experimenting with the “beer can chicken” where you grill the fowl over a can of beer (or root beer, or ginger beer, or soda water) — this is supposed to keep the fowl and its white meat moist. Later! That one’s not tandoori!)
But, back to the tandoori chicken…
In India (and no doubt in quality Indian restaurants everywhere), “tandoori” refers to a way of cooking food in a high-heat tandoor oven. Which most of us probably don’t have. (However, it IS on my wish-list…) A really hot outdoor charcoal grill, however, can get us pretty darn close to, ahem, ignition. I have little experience with propane grilling in this regard, however, and unless you have experience with yours at really high heat, I recommend charcoal.
Prep time: 15-20 minutes active prep; marinate 8-24 hours.
Cook time: 20-30 minutes, grill temps vary.
Rest time: Say, five minutes.
Serves: a couple of pieces of chicken for everyone is minimal, but I’d have the option for more. At worst, there’d always be leftovers.
Chicken Tandoori on the Charcoal Grill
* Chicken, usually still on the bone, but skin removed. Say, about 6 – 8 thighs, or whatever floats your boat. (If your chicken was reared in a healthy, pastured environment, save the skin to fry and crisp up in a skillet — draining off the extra fat after cooking onto a paper towel or two — otherwise discard. If you do fry and crisp it up, seasonings such as lemon pepper, garlic powder, or even a chili blend can be applied before crisping. But, that’s a separate dish.) If you don’t want the bother of removing the skin, go buy the boneless, skinless chicken pieces — although it is pretty easy to remove from the thighs (or breasts); drumsticks take a little bit more effort.
* Plain yogurt, preferably whole fat, have a cup to hand. If you prefer a not-whole-fat source, make sure there are no added sugars or other extenders in there. (Yogurt, depending on brand and source, is a bit more forgiving for those who shop for lower fat products without extenders, than most other dairy products, with the exception of mozzarella which seems to be free of extenders even when low-fat.) I often source out goat yogurt when available. A note which I’ve made before: WHOLE milk is 3.5% fat. 1% milk is 1% fat. It is NOT 1% of 3.5%. Unless you are subsisting on dairy for the majority of your nutrition needs (please, don’t!), whole milk is generally going to be a LOT healthier for you, especially if you can’t avoid extenders. Try to find a healthy source for your yogurt — I pretty much trust Stonyhill brand as a widespread example, at least in the US. If you have an Indian grocery store nearby, you can always pick up some of their yogurt.
* Lemon juice from one whole lemon, but add about half for starters. You can always add more in the tasting phase.
* Tandoori seasoning, a good heaping tablespoon. I use Penzey’s blend. This contains: Coriander, cumin, sweet paprika, garlic, ginger, cardamom and saffron. I have in the past made my own blend, but today I had other things on my mind.
* Tumeric powder. For some reason the Penzey’s blend doesn’t contain tumeric, but I find it essential, and yes, even good for you… I added nearly a teaspoon.
* Optional 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Tandoori isn’t necessarily hot-spicy, but I like to add in a little kick.
* Ground pepper and sea salt. (It doesn’t have to be sea salt, but after that rant on milk fats, I figure I better add in sea salt…)
PS: this won’t yield that bright red coloration you see at many Indian restaurants here in North America. The secret to that one is… food coloring. Adding in a little more paprika will give the marinate more of a reddish tone, but it won’t be bright red.
Prep the marinate — mix everything together in a large bowl except the chicken. Set aside.
Prep the chicken — take the skinless chicken and either slice slits in it with a paring knife in 4 or 5 locations, or use the tines of a fork to puncture it hither and yonder. Scrub your hands clean… it’s raw chicken…
The marinate should have sat aside about 15 minutes, enough time for the flavors to have “married” a bit into the yogurt. Taste the marinate — you may want to adjust levels of seasoning now. (See why we washed our hands? Grin.)
Once all that’s settled, add in your chicken, using your hands to rube the marinate into all pieces, and into those flavor-containing slits that you made in the pieces.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight, and come back 2 or 3 times to move the pieces around in the marinate (with a spoon or fork this time).
Get your grill (or tandoor, lucky you) ready however you usually do. I use a charcoal chimney, The trick with the charcoal chimney is getting the coals hot enough — I use a relatively inexpensive brand of hardwood lump charcoal, not the briquettes. The briquettes are all evenly-sized, which makes it difficult to find the proper amount of air flow inside your chimney. I focus on mid-sized bits of lump charcoal, as these are irregularly-sized, and provide enough, but not too much, air flow. The really large pieces that come in my bag I intersperse in selectively (or sometimes break into two), or save for cooler cooking needs.
The charcoal chimney will take about 20-25 minutes to get the coals piping hot (on really windy days this will happen much faster, and the coals, in my experience, don’t get dinner quite as hot — so if I know that the night I want to grill is going to be windy, I typically make something else…)
When the coals are ready, pour the charcoal into the grill on one side. Make sure you have your vents about halfway open (well, mine are frozen in place, cheap grill. Fortunately they’re frozen into a useful place). Have the chicken ready, and arrange it over the direct side of the grill. Discard extra marinate. Cover.
After about ten minutes, using grilling tongs, flip the pieces. (There are no precise timings to give you for charcoal grilling, and it will also depend on the thickness of the chicken. Even among chicken thighs, I’ve seen monstrous ones and teensie ones. Thick pieces I’ll flip more than once.
After another ten minutes (or so), check for done-ness, using either a meat thermometer inserted not against the bone or if you feel confident about your done-ness skills, cut a piece open. Note that grilling doesn’t cook every piece evenly the same, but dark meat is more forgiving than the white for overcooking. You can always remove the center pieces and then move in the side pieces so they can continue cooking more intensely. Or to keep warm, those fully-cooked center pieces can move off to the far indirect side of the grill.