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Nik Sharma's Chicken Tandoori Recipe

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Nik Sharma's Tandoori Chicken | Recipe on

Tandoori is derived from the word tandoor, the large clay oven where long skewers of marinated meat and poultry are cooked and where doughs of naan get deliciously blistered. We never owned a tandoor at home (they can be pretty huge), so I’ve devised a few tricks to make this popular chicken more easily. 

Instead of using artificial food coloring to give the chicken its traditional red color, I used a beet. This works well and doesn’t impart a beety flavor. The marinade turns deep pink, and the assorted spices lend a heady fragrance. To cook the chicken in two stages, bake first and then broil to get those characteristic tandoor marks on the chicken. Or, in summer, use your grill. (See Grilling Alternative at end of recipe.)

Nik’s Homemade Chicken Tandoori Recipe

This recipe calls for a large amount of chicken. You can certainly cut the recipe in half, but if you make the whole thing, you can actually freeze half the chicken in its marinade (use a zip-top freezer bag) and defrost it later in the fridge. Freezing the chicken in batches is also a great way to save some time during the week. Serve your tandoori chicken with flatbreads such as naan, or with roti or rice, a refreshing salad, and either plain yogurt or my cucumber-mint raita.

Makes 8 servings

6 pounds chicken drumsticks
2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup beet, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon green cardamom seed
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons turmeric powder
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
12 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon paprika
12 whole cloves
4 dried red chilies (I used Kashmiri chilies but feel free to use any kind you like)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Extra lemons, for serving

Remove skin from the chicken, grabbing it with a paper towel and pulling it off. Make two deep slits across the flesh of each drumstick. Place in a large bowl.

Using a food processor, blender, or immersion blender, puree all the ingredients from the yogurt to the salt until completely smooth. Pour the marinade over the chicken, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinade in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours (up to overnight). (At this point you may divide the chicken and marinade into two portions and freeze one; see head note.)

Place one wire rack in the middle of the oven and another rack closest to the top. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange 6 drumsticks about an inch apart. Pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of the marinade over each drumstick. (Discard the remaining marinade.)

Working in batches, bake for about 30 minutes, turning the chicken pieces over midway through. The chicken is cooked when the internal temperature reaches 160°F. Flip on the broiler and transfer the baking sheet to the top rack. Broil for 3 to 5 minutes, watching carefully, until the drumsticks are slightly charred. Remove to a plate, cover lightly, and allow to rest a few minutes before serving with lemon wedges.


Editor’s note: Nik encouraged me to grill the chicken, so I did and it worked great. Here’s how: Prepare a grill for both direct and indirect cooking over medium-high heat (about 400°F). After draining away the marinade, coat the chicken pieces liberally on all sides with olive oil spray. Grill first over direct heat for five minutes to establish deep grill marks, then flip and transfer to indirect heat to finish cooking, 20 to 25 minutes longer, or until cooked through, turning occasionally. ~Cheryl

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Words, Recipe + Photography by Nik Sharma