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.
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
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.
- 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 (can sub buttermilk)
- 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
1 Heat the spices in oil: 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 spices into yogurt, add lemon juice, garlic, salt, ginger: Whisk the cooled spice-oil mixture into the yogurt, then mix in the lemon juice, garlic, salt and ginger.
3 Cut deep slashes into chicken, coat with marinade, chill: 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 grill: 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.
5 Shake off excess marinade, place chicken on hot side of grill: 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.
Turn the chicken so it is brown (even a little bit charred) on all sides
6 Move to cool side of grill, cover and cook: Move chicken 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.