Continuing my ode to great gourmet Indian dishes, one of my favourite—albeit clichéd or common—methods of cooking is tandoori. When I lived away from India, there were two things I really missed—hot phulkas and really good tandoori chicken. Dal was also on the agenda, but you could, at a pinch, find reasonable dal in restaurants and in Indian homes. No restaurant or home I knew made phulkas à la minute and no home could really replicate a tandoor. Some restaurants in London, like Khan’s in Bayswater, still serve a decent tandoori chicken, but it simply isn’t the same. The yogurt is pasteurized, and the masala tastes the same no matter what it is smeared on. I know there are some fabulous Indian restaurants in London today, but I really can’t justify a hundred pounds on nostalgia or a craving for tandoori chicken.
Tandoori chicken needs to be eaten from a dhaba or a speciality restaurant, smoking and juicy, perhaps even slightly charred. The chicken needs to be plump and tender. Delhi is, of course, full of such haunts at all price levels. This is the home of the tandoori chicken, after all. Tandoori food, cooked in clay ovens, was brought to the city after Partition in 1947 by refugees from the north-west and Punjab. A later offshoot was butter chicken, which originated in the 1950s. Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi made the sauce by adding butter and tomato to the leftover chicken juices in the marinade trays from which they sold hundreds of tandoori chicken every day. We are less lucky with good north Indian food in Mumbai.
Marinate with chickpea flour to seal in the juices
In the five-star brigade, I have found Bukhara at the ITC Maurya in Delhi and Peshawari at the ITC Grand Maratha in Mumbai, way ahead of the competition. This is probably because they specialize and give huge importance to regional Indian food within their chain of hotels. I had never visited the Indian restaurant at the ITC Grand Central in Mumbai until a few weeks ago. This one mixes both curries and kebabs and is aptly named Kebabs and Kurries. They serve a few Bukhara, Dakshin and Dum Pukht specialities, as well as some of their own. In the kebab arena, Murg Malai Kebab, of course, is a legendary Bukhara favourite. Who would have thought that a little bit of cheese in the marinade would make so much difference to a piece of chicken. At Kebabs and Kurries, they also do a range of new tandoori kebabs which I had not heard of before; they were a refreshing change. One that particularly grabbed me was Murg Angaar. It is particularly flavourful because the second marinade has been cooked, and besan or chickpea flour replaces yogurt to seal in the juices. This is Chef Manish’s recipe for this delectable and yet easy-to-make kebab. You may not have a tandoor at home but it comes out rather well in an oven too.
1 kg chicken from the breast and leg, cut into 2-inch pieces
For first marinade:
¾ cup malt vinegar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
For second marinade:
¼ cup ghee
½ tbsp jeera
2 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp chopped ginger
2 tbsp chopped onion
1 tbsp chopped green chilli
2 tbsp red chilli flakes
1½ tbsp chopped coriander stems
1 tsp salt
½ tbsp red chilli powder.
½ tsp garam masala (made with mace or javitri)
1½ tbsp besan
1 tbsp chaat masala
½ tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp butter
Marinate the chicken with salt, ginger and garlic paste and malt vinegar. Keep it aside for 10 minutes. Heat the ghee in a lagan or large handi. When hot, throw in jeera, then garlic and ginger. Add chopped onions and fry till translucent. Add chopped green chillies and red chilli flakes. Stir and add red chilli powder, coriander stems and garam masala. Add chicken pieces and stir fry for a minute. Add besan and salt and mix well. Remove from flame. Skewer the chicken and cook in a tandoor or hot oven till done. Sprinkle with chaat masala, lime juice and melted butter.
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