Tandoori chicken is one of my favorite Indian dishes. I always order it when I see it on a restaurant menu. So I figured it was time to learn how to make tandoori chicken at home.
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It’s spicy, tangy, and delicious wrapped up in paratha or naan with mint chutney.
This recipe is not totally authentic, but it is full of flavor. And it is easy, too! You probably don’t own a tandoor, but you can cook it in the oven, on the grill, or even in your air fryer.
What is tandoori ?
A tandoor is a type of clay oven used in Indian cooking. A tandoor oven uses very high heat, which is what makes it so perfect for cooking things like chicken.
The outside gets a bit charred and crisp, but the meat cooks quickly enough that it doesn’t dry out.
Tandoori chicken is first marinated in yogurt mixed with spices. This mixture flavors and tenderizes the meat, which is then cooked in a tandoor.
You really can’t replicate the unique cooking environment of a tandoor. But with a very hot oven or grill, you can approximate it. You can even use your air fryer!
What ingredients do you need to make tandoori chicken?
This spicy chicken recipe is simple to make. The key ingredients are chicken, tandoori paste, and yogurt.
There are many different recipes for tandoori paste. Most of them include garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric, Kashmiri chili powder or cayenne pepper, and the spice mixture called garam masala.
Homemade tandoori paste is easy to make. Just combine onion, garlic, ginger, and spices in a food processor.
Here’s what you need to make this tandoori chicken recipe:
- Ground coriander
- Ground turmeric
- Garam masala
- Kashmiri chili powder
- Lemon juice
- Whole-milk plain yogurt (you can use Greek yogurt, but I prefer the creamier European style yogurt here)
- Chicken legs and/or thighs (whole or boneless and skinless)
Can you use store-bought tandoori paste?
Yes! If you are in a hurry, skip the ingredients from onion through Kashmiri chili powder altogether. Substitute 1/2 cup of prepared tandoori paste. I like Patak’s Tandoori Paste.
How to make tandoori chicken
- Combine the tandoori paste ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.
- In a large bowl, combine the tandoori paste, lemon juice, yogurt, and salt. Add the chicken, toss to coat, and let it marinate for about 30 minutes.
- Cook the chicken on a grill heated to high heat, in a 450-degree oven, or in your air fryer. High heat is key here. It quickly caramelizes the dairy sugars in the yogurt marinade. This creates a crust that seals in the chicken’s natural juices and all that spicy flavor.
- Serve the chicken with warm paratha or naan or basmati rice and a dish of mint or cilantro chutney on the side.
Why do you recommend only marinating for 30 minutes?
While most chicken recipes benefit from long marinating times, in this case I don’t recommend it.
The chicken is marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices. The yogurt breaks down the proteins in the chicken. This tenderizes it and helps it absorb the flavors of the spice paste.
Whole articles, like this one, have been written about how fermented dairy products work to tenderize meats in this way. To put it simply, the lactic acid in the yogurt breaks down the proteins more quickly than ingredients like vinegar or citrus juice.
This means that yogurt-based marinades are great for both tenderizing meat and helping them absorb the other flavors in a marinade quickly.
But if you leave the yogurt on too long, the chicken becomes mushy. That’s why I recommend that you marinate the chicken for only 20 to 40 minutes.
If you want to marinate the chicken for longer, leave out the yogurt. Thin the marinade with a bit of oil and additional lemon juice.
Why is some tandoori chicken bright red?
Tandoori paste has a rich, deep red color, which it will impart to the chicken. But you may have noticed that sometimes tandoori chicken has a much brighter red color than you’d get from spices alone.
This is usually achieved by adding a few drops of red or red and orange food coloring. I don’t add food coloring when I cook tandoori chicken at home. If you really like that bright color, go ahead and add it!
What should you serve with it?
Some sort of flatbread is a must as far as I am concerned. Serve it with naan, roti, or paratha. Basmati rice and steamed or sautéed vegetables make great side dishes.
I also like to serve an herby chutney or even my Spicy Yemenite Zhoug Sauce.
Another chicken dish I love that delivers Indian flavors is this Yellow Chicken Curry with Potatoes and Peas.
For dessert, try this refreshing Kulfi, a creamy frozen dessert flavored with mango and cardamom.
For the tandoori paste
- ½ small onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
- 1 ½ tablespoons paprika
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon Kashmiri chile powder or cayenne
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 whole chicken legs (drumsticks and thighs, with bones and skin intact) or 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
In a large bowl, stir together the tandoori paste, yogurt, and salt. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 20 to 40 minutes.
- Heat your grill to medium-high heat.
- Place the chicken on the grill and cook for about 7 to 10 minutes per side. Bone-in chicken will take a bit longer than boneless. The chicken should be cooked through and browned and charred in places on the outside. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, the temperature should be 160ºF.
- Remove the chicken from the grill and let stand for about 5 minutes before serving.
To cook in the oven
- Heat the oven to 425ºF.
- Place the chicken on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for about 20 to 25 minutes, turning once in the middle. The chicken should be cooked through and browned and charred around the edges. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, the temperature should be 160ºF.
- Remove the chicken from the oven and let stand for about 5 minutes before serving.
To cook in the air fryer
- I like to line the basket with parchment paper first (I use the kind with the holes cut in it), but it isn’t necessary.
- Arrange the chicken in the air fryer basket in a single layer.
- Cook at 400ºF for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over and then cook at 400ºF for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and browned and charred in places on the outside.
- Remove the chicken from the air fryer and let stand for about 5 minutes before serving.
If you don't want to make your own tandoori paste, substitute a store-bought version like Patak's.
Amount Per Serving Calories 390Total Fat 18gSaturated Fat 6gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 12gCholesterol 278mgSodium 950mgCarbohydrates 2gFiber 0gSugar 2gProtein 56g
Nutrient values are estimates only. Variations may occur due to product availability and manner of food preparation. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin, freshness of ingredients, and other factors.