In last week’s post we explored one of China’s most renowned ways of preparing meat, Siu Mei, Char Siu style. What makes Char Siu so renowned, even if you haven’t heard of it before, is that chances are you will have seen it in a dish prepared in your favourite Chinese restaurant, will have eaten it without knowing it, or will have seen the tantalising lengths of pork freshly roasted and hanging in windows at Asian supermarkets (you can read the Char Siu blog in our blog posts). That being said, India has iconic foods as well, such as a huge range of delectable curries, delicious appetisers like samosas and of course, the infamous Tandoori Chicken which we will be exploring here along with Tandoori Naan bread.
Tandoori Chicken gets its name from the tandoor in which it’s cooked; an earthenware oven in the shape of a cylinder. Though traditionally made of clay they are now available in metal as well. The way a tandoor works is by burning wood or charcoal in the bottom of it. The temperatures inside of a lit tandoor reach exceptional levels of 480C (900F) or higher, making the cooking time extremely quick. The cooking process in a tandoor is interesting as there is no grill on which the meat sits. Different meats and vegetables are pierced onto long metal skewers and are lowered into the tandoor vertically. The cooking happens by a number of different processes; radiant heat from the burning embers in the bottom of the tandoor, convection by the movement of the hot air generated inside the oven and by smoking created by the fats and juices burning as they hit the embers in the bottom. Breads, such as Naan, Roti and Paratha are cooked on the inner wall of the Tandoor. As the raw dough hits the extremely hot wall of the tandoor it sticks instantly and can be peeled away easily once the bread’s cooked through.
As the Fornetto can hit extremely high temperatures, it can mimic the way in which a Tandoor cooks with convection and indirect heat cooking. Chicken and other meats or vegetables can be placed directly on the racks to cook. A drip pan filled with water should be placed in the bottom of the oven at the beginning of cooking to keep the meat juicy and then removed about 15 minutes prior to it being fully cooked to allow it to brown. Those of you that have ever had Tandoori chicken will know that the meat is seldom very juicy as a tandoor’s extreme heat cooks and dries the meat at the same time. To avoid this when cooking at high temperatures, you have the option of using a water bath with the Fornetto which isn’t possible with many other types of outdoor ovens or grills. I suggest placing the water bath in the oven while it’s preheating, that way, when the meat is placed in the cooking chamber, the water is already steaming. Always remember your gloves and to avoid the steam when opening the door!
As I mentioned earlier, smoking happens to food inside a tandoor as well, not only from the wood or charcoal that is being burnt but by the natural fats and juices being burnt off the embers as they drip from the meat. As you can see in the images above and below, Tandoori chicken is always cooked without the skin. This not only aids with the marinade penetrating the flesh but reduces burning at the same time. For a very authentic flavour, I suggest reserving some of the skin for use during cooking. About 15 minutes into cooking, I place a couple of pieces of skin onto the hot coals in the combustion chamber and open the smoker slider. This will replicate the same smokey flavour imparted by the burning fats and juices inside a tandoor and is similar to the flavour rendered by a charcoal grill. If cooking meats other than chicken, reserve any fat or skin removed during preparation and follow the same technique as above. Go slowly when adding fat or skin as they will flare and increase the temperature inside the Fornetto.
Tandoori chicken gets its rich, full flavour from the marinade and the long marinating time it calls for. The marinade is a perfect blend of spicy, savoury and acidic flavours. Yogurt is mixed with Tandoori Masala spices, a blend including turmeric, cumin, cardamom, and garlic to name but a few and red chill powder for that authentic red colour. Tandoori Masala can be prepared from scratch or purchased already prepared. For a milder flavour, but to retain the red colour, red food colouring is an option.
Tandoori chicken can be served either hot or at room temperature for a picnic. Great accompaniments are basmati (or whole grain basmati as seen above), sweet onion salad, fresh lemon, coriander and Naan bread is a must as we’ll see next. Click here for the Tandoori Chicken and Naan bread recipes!
Tandoori Naan is a traditional leavened flat bread cooked on the inner clay wall of a tandoor. The dough is moderately sticky, similar to pizza dough and is easily removed from an earthenware surface such as clay or the Fornetto pizza stones once fully cooked. The Fornetto Classic Spatula is the ideal tool for Naan, smaller pizzas, buns and other breads. Be sure to lightly flour the spatula before laying the Naan on it so it can be easily cinched off and onto the pizza stone in the bottom of the oven.
The Naan are done when the tops start to bubble and turn brown and toasty. Fresh Naan is often buttered with clarified butter known as Ghee and served alongside other foods from the tandoor, or in this case, the Fornetto!
TIP: You may be wondering about cleaning the pizza stone in the bottom of the oven. I have to recommend against it unless absolutely necessary. The more the stone gets spotted and stained with grease or burnt residue the better it will perform. This is a natural process called seasoning. If you have a truly big mess, simply brush the stone lightly with a non-abrasive brush under running water and allow it to air dry. Never use soap under any circumstance!