Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori chicken gets its name from the bell-shaped tandoor clay oven which is also used to make naan, or Indian flatbread. Skinless legs and thighs are marinated in a tenderizing mixture of yogurt, lemon juice, and spices and the meat is slashed to the bone in several places helping the marinade penetrate and the chicken cook more quickly. The chicken gets its characteristic red hue from either lots of fiery chile or the addition of red food dye. We’re not that big on food dyes here, so we’ve skipped it, but if you must have your chicken bright red, feel free to add a bit of red food dye to the marinade. Now, you don’t need a tandoor oven to make tandoori chicken (thank goodness). You can cook it over a grill (charcoal preferred) or just in an oven with a broiler.

The key to tandoori chicken is to use bone-in thighs and legs (yay! our favorite cuts) because they have enough fat to stay moist under the heat of the grill. We don’t recommend this dish with chicken breasts, they’ll dry out too easily. The pieces should be skinless. Here’s a trick though, if you find yourself with extra skins (we bought our pieces skin-on), soak them in the marinade and slowly fry them until crispy. Better than bacon.

Tandoori Chicken Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

If you don't have a grill, you can broil the chicken for a few minutes on each side to get some browning, then finish in a 325°F oven until done.

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp garam masala
  • 1 Tbsp sweet (not hot) paprika
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 whole chicken legs (drumsticks and thighs), or its equivalent, skinless, bone-in

Method

1 Heat the oil in a small pan over medium heat, then cook the coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, garam masala and paprika, stirring often, until fragrant (approximately 2-3 minutes). Let cool completely.

2 Whisk in the cooled spice-oil mixture into the yogurt, then mix in the lemon juice, garlic, salt and ginger.

3 Cut deep slashes (to the bone) in 3-4 places on the leg/thigh pieces. Just make 2-3 cuts if you are using separate drumsticks and thighs. Coat the chicken in the marinade, cover and chill for at least an hour (preferably 6 hours), no more than 8 hours.

4 Prepare your grill so that one side is quite hot over direct heat, the other side cooler, not over direct heat. If using charcoal, leave one side of the grill without coals, so you have a hot side and a cooler side. If you are using a gas grill, just turn on one-half of the burners. Use tongs to wipe the grill grates with a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil. Take the chicken out of the marinade and shake off the excess. You want the chicken coated, but not gloppy. Put the chicken pieces on the hot side of the grill and cover. Cook 2-3 minutes before checking.

5 Turn the chicken so it is brown (even a little bit charred) on all sides, then move it to the cool side of the grill. Cover and cook for at least 20 minutes, up to 40 minutes (or longer) depending on the size of the chicken and the temperature of the grill. The chicken is done when its juices run clear.

Let it rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. It’s also great at room temperature or even cold the next day.

Serve with naan, and Indian flatbread, or with Indian style rice, with yogurt-based raita on the side.

Links:

Tandoori chicken background in the Wikipedia
Tandoori chicken, the busy (lazy?) American way - from John of Food Wishes
The Big Escape with Tandoori Chicken from Quick Indian Cooking
More tandoori recipes from Indian food blogs

17 Comments

  1. Keith

    Better than bacon? Definitely my favorite recipe blog, but this statement brings everything into question ;). Keep up the good work. I look forward to trying this one!

    Hah! Well, I’m one of those who still begs the crispy skin from the chicken thighs from my dad who for some unfathomable reason doesn’t eat them. God knows he eats enough bacon. ~Elise

  2. Anna

    If I am going to make this in the oven, when you say “finish” how long do you think that would take? I don’t have a meat thermometer so I don’t really have a way of checking if it is cooked through.

    Assume total cooking time of 15 minutes per pound as a place to start. The meat is done when you cut into it with a knife and the juices run clear, not pink. Check here for a good basic recipe for oven-baked chicken. You’ll probably want to reduce the time a bit because if you’ve made cuts to the bone the chicken will cook faster. ~Elise

  3. Annie

    Hey – are you copying me, or did you not see my tweet last week about roasted tandoori chicken? LOL! I used jarred tandoori paste (thanks for posting the dye-free recipe) which, after boiling the the picked-over carcass for stock, turned it a shocking shade of pink!

    Missed the tweet Annie. Oh my, pink chicken stock! ~Elise

  4. freda

    The tandoori chicken looks great but we can’t handle the yogurt. Can you make it with soy yogurt? will it still be o.k.?

    The yogurt is mainly there as a tenderizer. It’s acidic. You could also use buttermilk. Or if you are avoiding dairy, and soy yogurt is acidic, you could try it. Or just use more lemon juice. ~Elise

  5. cassandra

    Mmmm this looks soo good, awesome photo and recipe! I will have to try this soon. You mentioned naan–oh man, do i love naan. Do you have a good recipe? I have tried numerous times to make naan, but either the recipes I am using are horrible, or I’m just a bad cook. I’m choosing to believe I haven’t found a good recipe yet. There are only a few internet based sources that I trust to consistently find amazing recipes, and Simply Recipes is one of them (many thank yous for lots of amazing dinners!!). I think your next recipe should be a naan ;-)

    It’s on the agenda, but I don’t know when. In the meantime, check out the naan recipes from other food blogs at Food Blog Search. ~Elise

  6. Sara

    I have just gotten out the clay romertopf my Mom never used. The cookbook with it says it makes a decent substitute tandoor oven. What would be your advice?

    Hey, it’s worth a try! I have one of those clay roasters too. I do think you are supposed to soak them overnight in water before using them, otherwise they may crack. You might want to look for info online on how to use it. ~Elise

  7. Swati

    I wanted to check why it cannot be marinated overnight?

    The marinade is quite acidic. You can marinate the chicken overnight, but you do risk breaking down the meat too much. ~Elise

  8. Susan

    I’m one of those breast meat lovers and find this recipe makes even the breast meat moist and flavorful. We kabob’d the meat to get even more flavor per bite and it was wonderful. Thanks for this, Elise.

  9. Gina

    Best ever recipe for naan (modified from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking):
    3 3/4 c. AP flour
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tsp salt
    About 1 3/4 c. plain yogurt
    Optional: softened butter, chopped garlic

    Sift dry ingredients together in bowl, then add enough yogurt to make soft resilient dough. Knead about 10 minutes, form into ball, place in bowl covered with damp towel, and set aside in warm area for 1-2 hours. Knead again, then divide into 9 equal balls. Preheat the broiler and a pizza stone (in middle of oven).
    Take the balls of dough and flatten and roll on floured surface to about 1/8″ thickness. When pizza stone is very hot, slap the dough onto the surface and let puff up completely. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, until naan is puffy and has some reddish spots. Remove with spatula and brush with butter (and garlic). Serve hot.
    You can also start the naans on a cast iron skillet and finish under the broiler. To make ahead: follow above, allow to cool completely, wrap in plastic bag. To reheat: remove from plastic, wrap in aluminium foil and heat in 400 deg oven for 15 minutes.

  10. Trish Mulvey

    We would love to try this in our clay pot, and you only need to soak the pot and its lid for ten minutes. My favorite baked chicken recipe that looks kinda similar starts with a mixed layer of a chopped onion and and a chopped green pepper wiht 1.5 cups of luke warm chicken broth. After the pot is in the cold oven, heat to 480F and bake for about 80 minutes.

    I would love other suggestions.

  11. Samantha

    Is garam masala the same as curry powder? I read somewhere that it was, but in another Indian recipe I saw that both spices were needed.

    Very different. You want to use garam masala in this recipe. Standard yellow curry powder has quite a different taste. ~Elise

  12. pratfall

    The red color traditionally comes from annatto seed, which you can find at some spice stores. A teaspoon or so ground into the spice mixture in the recipe should be enough for a nice color. Red food dye is a vicious lie.

  13. Maureen

    The Tandoori Chicken and the rice were a huge hit for my dinner tonight. It was a little fussy but the results were amazing. Definitely a keeper.

  14. Rebecca

    For those of you who are lactose sensitive, I made this last night with lactose free yogurt, and baked it in the oven on 500 for 30 minutes instead of putting it on the grill. Was so good, I am making it for the in-laws next week.

  15. Amanda

    Soooo yummy! I made this for my friends last night. There were lots of parts that the little 8 year old girl that I babysit was able to help with. She was so proud of “her” product. : ) Seeding the cucumber for the raita (which is a must for this recipe!) using a melon baller works great and is a great job for little hands. Thank you for this recipe- I will be making this again!

I apologize for the inconvenience, but comments are closed. You can share your thoughts on our Facebook page ~ Elise.