The world loves a succulent piece of meat, and more so if it carries the fragrance of saffron, the tender tongue-tickling flavor of yogurt mixed with the punch of mint, that's what tandoori dreams are made of. Let's have a sneak peek at what the masters do, to conjure up these divine fantasies on your plate.
A marinade is a combination of tenderizers, herbs, spices, and sometimes, dry fruits. The tenderizers may change from place to place or vary between tastes. However, there are some basic guidelines that must be kept in mind before one sets out to marinate then tandoor (or oven-bake) meats and vegetables.
- The ideal time that the meat or vegetable must be marinated depends on the nature of the item itself, the type of cut being used and of course, the type of tenderizer being used.
- Readymade spices, while more convenient often do not give as much flavor to the recipe as freshly ground ones.
- The marinated meat can be kept in the refrigerator for two or three days, but must be brought to room temperature before being set in the tandoor. For longer storage, it can even be frozen, but must be defrosted before use.
- Never use aluminum dishes for marinating, try for a ceramic dish - even stainless steel will do.
- Salt may be added in the marinades of white meats and vegetables, but should be avoided for red meats as it extracts the water from the meat. So it is a good idea to add salt to the marinade about twenty minutes before cooking it.
- If dry fruits are being used in the marinade, use small quantities.
- Always add spices according to the base taste of the meat. The spices and herbs should match.
- Ensure the marinade is not too wet. A paste of roasted onions is a better idea than raw onion paste, and if salt is being added, ensure the water is removed before it is added to the marinade. If yogurt is being used, try to hang it up to drain out the liquid, for about fifteen minutes before applying.
- Never put the meat pieces end to end on the skewer. Some gap should be left between the pieces. When skewering the meats, don't push the skewer straight through, but thread it on different planes, this ensures that the meat doesn't slip off the skewer. While skewering the whole chicken, keep the same pattern in mind, the skewer should be inserted into the neck end and should emerge near the tail, leaving the backbone intact.
- If the tandoor is not available, each of these dishes can be cooked in the oven, over spit fires or barbeques, but cooking time then needs to be doubled.
Armed with this basic knowledge, we can now see the most commonly used marinades.
Poultry could include partridge, quail, turkey, duck, geese, pigeon, or even guinea fowl, in addition to chicken.
The best marinade for tandoori chicken (one full broiler) would be, One cup of hung yogurt, a mix of raw papaya, ginger and garlic paste (about half a cup), turmeric and coriander powder (about half a teaspoon each), powdered garam masala- about half a teaspoon, and salt to taste.
An interesting variation is the Indian style roast chicken stuffed with veggies. Using the same marinade as above, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice instead f raw papaya paste. For the stuffing, sauté shelled peas, diced potatoes, diced carrots, and chopped tomato. All the vegetables should fill a cup, and then add raw mango powder (easily available in spice shops), chopped green chilies, slivered ginger, and salt. When the veggies are tender, stuff into the chicken and sew it up, then smear with the marinade. Cook suspended by a hook inside the oven or tandoor and leave suspended after cooking. This can be served with any yogurt salad and naan roti, making a complete meal in itself.
For chicken tikka (about 1 kg in pieces), the marinade may be the same or powered nutmeg and cardamom can be added to extends the flavors. The second marinade can be made with about 3 eggs, a cup of sesame seeds, half a cup of flour, and a quarter cup of minced green chilies and coriander, with salt to taste. After marinating the first time around, dip or roll the tikkas in the second marinade and then skewer.
The possibilities of marinades are almost endless, bringing out flavors of each and every spice known to the Indian cook, but here we are limiting ourselves to the most basic, healthy, and tasty ones.
Lamb Kebab Marinade
The leg of lamb is the best cut for cooking in the tandoor. A good marinade would be (for 1 kg. leg), about half a cup of hung yogurt, 2 tbsp. of raw papaya paste, 3 tbsp. of vinegar, half a cup of ginger garlic paste, one quarter cup of fried onion paste, a teaspoon of garam masala, powder and 4 pounded figs. Smear this paste well into the cuts in the leg and leave for about 11 hours, then cook.
The marinade changes for every vegetable cooked in the tandoor. No tenderizers like papaya are required, which is why the marinade does not need a tenderizer, only spices, oils, and pastes will do. For the most popular baked vegetable across the globe, the cauliflower lends itself to almost every palate. A popular marinade for Tandoori Gobi in the form of florets cut out of two large cauliflowers, will be ginger garlic paste, carrum, about a cup of yogurt and a cup of flour of split chickpeas (available as besan), red chili powder, and salt to taste. The marinating should take about an hour and cooking, about ten minutes. The result is a vegetarian's pride.
Potatoes (only butter, minced green chilies, garam masala powder and salt needed,), Cottage cheese cubes (a marinade of lemon juice, roasted and ground cumin seeds, yogurt, ginger garlic paste, turmeric powder, and green chili paste with salt to taste does the trick). Usually hard vegetables are cooked in a tandoor, but a seekh (skewer can consist of combination of capsicum, cottage cheese cubes, cauliflower, tomato halves, all going up to make a delicious, less spicy, and crunchy vegetable delight.