Tandoori Chicken – Exploring the World of Spices
Flavorful, spicy, smoky, and savory, with just the right amount of heat from hot chilies. Roasted in a hot oven to a succulent tenderness. Tandoori Chicken is the perfect entrée for your first experience into the world of Indian cooking and spices.
Tandoori Chicken is comfort food to me and has become one of my favorite dishes to make over the last 26 years. The spices and flavors are reminiscent of the Mexican cuisine I grew up with. Cumin, coriander seeds, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, bay leaf, garlic, and chilies are just a few ingredients that share a common thread in both of these cuisines.
The recipe for Tandoori Chicken utilizes whole spices that are toasted then ground to a find powder known as Garam Masala (Dry Spice Mix) before being added it to the yogurt based marinade along with other aromatics such as ginger, garlic, and lemon juice. The spices, aromatics, and yogurt tenderize and deeply flavor the chicken before it is roasted or grilled. Toasting the whole spices in a dry sauté pan brings out and increases the depth of flavor of the spices. Filling your home with the intoxicating aromas of the sweet and savory spices.
Click the picture for the blog post and YouTube video for a larger recipe for the Garam Masala:
Why purchase whole spices rather than pre-ground? Whole spices contain essential oils that are not release until the spices are ground. Whole spices bring exceptional flavor to any dish they are used in. Toasting and grinding the whole spices as you need them for a recipe will insure you are getting the best flavor each and every time. Storing your whole spices in airtight containers will preserve their flavors for up to a year.
Where to shop for whole spices and natural yogurt? This recipe may require some ingredients you might not have stocked in your pantry. I recommend exploring your local Indian or Middle Eastern markets. You’ll find a wide assortment of spices, natural yogurt, and fresh ingredients to choose from. This is a perfect time to explore and ask questions, if you find that the ingredients/spices are not translated into English, ask for help from the market owners. I find they are more than happy to show you the spices and ingredients you are looking for and will often share their family recipes with you.
Note: The versatility of this recipe allows you to use any chicken pieces you like with bone or without. I often will use boneless, skinless, chicken thighs or chicken breast that has been pounded out thin for grilling. The chicken will only require 30 minutes in the marinade since it is so thin and has a lot of surface area, quickly picking up the flavor of the marinade. Making it perfect for the times you want the Tandoori Chicken experience with out the long marinating time.
The step-by-step instructional video for this recipe is at the bottom of this post.
- Chefs Knife
- Cutting Board
- Measuring Cups and Spoons
- Saute Pan
- Spice Grinder
- Large Mixing Bowl
- Rubber Spatula
- Half Sheet Tray
- Half Sheet Baking/Cooking Rack
- Heavy Aluminum Foil
Preparing the Chicken:
- 4 – 5 lb. Whole Chicken or Pre-cut Chicken Pieces with Bone-in
- Using a sharp knife and cutting board. Cut and remove the chicken back bone (which can be frozen for a stock) and giblets.
- Cut the chicken into 10 pieces and remove the chicken skin.
- Cut 2 small slashes down to the bone in the dark meat and 1 slash in the breast meat of the chicken. This will help the marinade flavor the chicken deeply.
- Place the chicken pieces on a plate and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the Garam Masala and Marinade.
Garam Masala (Dry Spice Mix)
- Measured Ingredients
- 1-½ Tbsp. Cumin Seeds
- 1 Tbsp. Coriander Seeds
- 1 Tbsp. Fennel Seeds
- 1-½ tsp. Fenugreek Seeds
- ½ tsp. Whole Black Pepper
- 4 ea. Green Cardamom
- 4 ea. Whole Cloves
- 1-½″ piece Cinnamon Stick (broken into small pieces)
- 1 ea. Bay Leaf (large or 2 to 3 small)
- ½ tsp. Ground Nutmeg (jaiphal)
- 1-2 Dried Red Chilies (hot, stems removed and broken into small pieces)
- Place the sauté pan over medium low heat.
- To the sauté pan add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, whole black pepper, green cardamom, whole cloves, and broken cinnamon stick.
- Slowly toast and shake the spices in the pan until they become fragrant and smoke slightly.
- Remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the toasted spices onto a parchment lined plate
- Add the bay leaf, ground nutmeg, and dried red chilies and cool the toasted spices for 10 minutes before grinding.
- In a spice grinder, grind the spices to a fine powder. Set aside until needed for the marinade.
- Store the remaining Garam Masala in an airtight glass container.
Tandoori Chicken Marinade:
- Measured Ingredients
- 2 cups Natural Yogurt (plain, whole fat)
- 1/2 cup Lemon Juice (freshly squeezed)
- 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
- 1/4 cup Garlic (peeled, coarsely chopped)
- 1/4 cup Ginger Root (peeled, coarsely chopped)
- From above All the Garam Masala
- 4 Tbsp. Sweet Paprika
- 2 tsp Red Chili Powder (hot)
- 1 Tbsp. Kosher Salt
- 2 tsp. Red Food Coloring
Combining the marinade and chicken:
- In a blender add the yogurt, lemon juice, vegetable oil, garlic, and ginger. Blend on high until the mixture is smooth.
- Add the garam masala, paprika, red chili powder, kosher salt, and red food color. Blend on high until the marinade is smooth.
- Pour the marinade into a large mixing bowl and add the chicken pieces and fold the marinade over the chicken using the rubber spatula.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or better overnight.
Note: The marinade can be made ahead and divided into airtight containers to be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw completely in the refrigerator before using the marinade to coat the chicken pieces.
Roasting the Tandoori Chicken:
- Preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C) or oven for 30 minutes before cooking the tandoori chicken.
- Line a baking sheet tray with aluminum foil and place a baking rack on top of the foil. Spray with non-stick spray or oil the baking rack.
- Remove the bowl of marinated chicken from the refrigerator
- Lift and transfer the pieces of marinated chicken (shaking off excess marinade) to a baking rack using a fork or tongs. Make sure to put the slashed side up.
- Place the baking sheet into the preheated oven on the middle rack.
- Roast the chicken at 450°F (232°C) for 40 to 45 minutes or until the chicken juices run clear when poked with a knife. The surface of the Tandoori Chicken will slightly chard while cooking.
- Remove the Tandoori Chicken from the oven and cover with aluminum foil. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
- When ready to serve move the Tandoori Chicken to a warmed platter. Top with fresh sliced white onions, lemon wedges, and cilantro.
- Served with fresh Naan, coriander chutney, tamarind chutney, romaine lettuce, and cucumber raita. (The chutney and cucumber raita recipes to come)
Note: The Tandoori Chicken can be cooked on a gas or charcoal grill to give the traditional char-roast flavor. Grill the chicken with indirect heat for the first 20 to 25 minutes and then over direct heat for the last 5 to 8 minutes. Check with a knife to see if the chicken juices run clear. Remove from the grill and place on a warmed platter and cover with foil. Resting for 15 minutes before serving.