Tandoori Chicken

What is the quintessential Indian dish that everyone thinks of when they think of Indian cuisine? Tandoori chicken. And why does everyone think Tandoori chicken?  Because it’s delicious, why else? For that reason I got to thinking that I had never made a tandoori chicken from scratch and should add it to the repertoire. I had most of the ingredients in the cupboard anyway so I dove straight in.  Researching the recipe I learned two interesting things; one – Tandoori chicken gets that amazing red color from… food coloring, yes food coloring! and two – you don’t have to marinade the chicken overnight, in fact you should only marinade it for around six hours. The reason behind the short marination time is that chickens found in western culture are bred and treated to be tender and over-marinating will over tenderize the meat. One tip before I get into the recipe, always buy your spices whole, never ground (unless you absolutely have to). Why? you might ask; whole spices keep extremely well and won’t lose their vibrancy, whereas ground spices will lose it extremely quickly. Ok, so here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 lemons
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 chillies
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup liquid unsweetened yoghurt
  • red food coloring


First of all you will need to prepare your chicken.

Skin the chicken and butterfly open (you can look up videos on how to do this, just type in ‘how to butterfly chicken’). After you’ve done this, deeply score the chicken all over, this will increase its surface area allowing the marinade to flavor more of the chicken.

Put the chicken in a bowl and squeeze the lemon juice over, add some salt and pepper and allow to tenderize for an hour.

Now for the marinade. Mince the garlic, grate the ginger, chop the chillies and mix together. Lightly toast the spices for a couple of minutes over a medium heat, until you can smell their aromas.

Then grind.

We used a coffee grinder, but you could also use a spice grinder or pestle and mortar.

Now, combine the spice blend, garlic, ginger and chilli paste and the yoghurt together.

Add enough food coloring until you get that vibrant red color. Go drop by drop until you get the color you are looking for, you don’t want to over do it..

Once the chicken has tenderized in the lemon juice for an hour, add the Tandoori marinade and leave covered in the fridge for 4-6 hours.

When you’re ready to eat, fire up the grill (unless you have a Tandoor oven..) and cook the chicken until tender.  Use a nice high flame as you want some black bits. You can also melt some butter and baste it as you go.

With the remaining marinade in the bowl, simmer it over a low heat until thick and cooked (you need to cook out that raw chicken) and spoon over just before eating.  To serve, cut the chicken into manageable pieces and place over steamed rice, with a nice chutney or salad on the side and a chunk of lemon. We served ours with spiced potatoes (recipe to come) and a mint yoghurt salad.


Tandoori Chicken w/ spiced potatoes and minted yoghurt spinach and cucumber salad