Published January 1, 2009.
We weren’t going to let a 24-hour marinade or the lack of a 900-degree oven keep us from turning this great Indian classic into an easy weeknight dinner.
Authentic versions call for a 24-hour marinade and a tandoor, a traditional beehive-shaped clay oven—requirements that keep the dish mainly in the realm of restaurants. But do you really need either of those things to create great-tasting chicken full of the same robust flavor?
We set out to reinvent this Indian classic into a recipe that could be made year-round in the oven.
Traditional tandoors produce moist, smoky meat because the fierce heat allows protein molecules on the meat’s surface to cross-link and contract, trapping moisture inside. Juices fall on the coals along with rendered fat, creating smoke that flavors the food. Trying to mimic the tandoor by cooking chicken in a very hot oven gave us disappointing results. Instead we turned to a technique we use to preserve the juiciness of thick-cut steaks. We baked the chicken in a low-temperature oven until almost done, then gave it a quick broil to char the exterior. However, there was still the problem of the 24-hour yogurt marinade, which took too long and made our chicken mushy. We tested marinating chicken for different lengths of time. Tasters preferred the chicken that had been dipped versus soaked for any length of time. This made sense, because yogurt contains acid, which breaks down proteins to tenderize meat. The longer meat is exposed to acid, the more its proteins break down, leading to mushiness. But without a long soak, how would we introduce other flavors to the meat? The answer was a salt-spice rub with garam masala, cumin, and chili powder bloomed in oil with ginger and garlic. We massaged the rub into chicken pieces to lock in juices and infuse flavor, then left them to sit. Following a dunk in yogurt flavored with the same spice mix, the chicken was ready for the oven. The results? Juicy, lightly charred, well-seasoned meat with just the right degree of tenderness.list of recipes