Jim Sikes: Tandoori chicken has a color great and flavor | Food-and-cooking

Jim Sikes: Tandoori chicken has a color great and flavor | Food-and-cooking

Tandoori chicken is a popular dish in Indian restaurants. Its bright red color and distinctive flavor make it a popular option. Unlike some dishes, it’s not particularly hot.

OK. My friends Dale Peterson and Marcia Henderson might disagree. They are members of the group of people who are hot food intolerant. Things others don’t perceive as spicy or hot, these folks do. Too bad. They don’t get to enjoy things others of us can.

Recently, I had some chicken thighs. Since I remembered my pledge to use the grill more, I headed that way. I made a few thighs with simple salt and pepper. I mighty fine method. Good spiked with touch of barbecue sauce too.

Another favorite was calling me—tandoori chicken. I’ve always liked this dish. Color is great and so is the flavor. It’s spicy, but lacks a heat pop. A little cayenne pepper fixes that.

I’ve always used marinades from Patak. This company makes all sorts of Indian spice blends. Tandoori paste is a staple of our fridge. There’s a jar in one of those top shelves in the door. It’s nice to make your own, but many of us don’t have those basic spices on hand. The ones found from Patak are quite good.

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Local availability is slim. I tried the large stores with no success. It becomes mostly an order-it situation. Since it lasts a long time, there’s no problem. Top the jar contents with olive oil to keep the paste preserved.

What makes tandoori red? That’s a good question.

The basic spice blend strongly contributes to the circumstance. Many have annatto seeds for color (That’s what makes cheddar orange.). Lemon juice helps, too.

Another factor is what’s known the “Maillard reaction.” Serious Eats has this to say: “The Maillard reaction is responsible for the browned, complex flavors that make bread taste toasty and malty, burgers taste charred, and coffee taste dark and robust. If you plan on cooking tonight, chances are you’ll be using the Maillard reaction to transform your raw ingredients into a better sensory experience.”

Sounds pretty “cheffy.” It’s more scientific really. It’s one of those things we benefit from and don’t need to try to understand.

Anyway, the Maillard chemical reaction helps the proteins in chicken meat, cooked, in a very hot environment, turn red. The exterior only. Boil an egg longer than usual and the outside turns brown. Cut it and inside is still white. It’s the same thing happening.

Back to our tandoori chicken.

I mixed some of the Patak tandoori paste with yogurt. Five times as much yogurt as paste. No cayenne this time. I removed the skin from the thighs, but not the bone. Then slashed each one deeply. Allows the marinade to penetrate easier and chicken cook quicker. Rub it in well and allow to rest an hour.

While that was happening, I fired up the grill and got it ready. No need for smoke. Quick cooking. Oil the grates well. When the chicken was ready, it went on a hot grill over the heat, covered. Turned it a couple of times. Ready in 15 minutes. Intense red color and luscious flavor. That’s all it takes.

While the chicken cooked, I sneaked on some peach halves dashed with Tony’s. Always invite him. “Good on everything.” Grilled fruit, especially melon, is great. It intensifies the sugars. There’s monsieur Malliard again.

We served the chicken with peaches on the side. Killer combination and so quick and easy to make. Tandoori chicken salad is a fine option as well.

Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.

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