In Indian tandoori cooking, much of the flavor comes from the ripping-hot temperatures, up to 900 F, which send spice and smoke sizzling out the top of barrel-shaped clay ovens.
The meat, usually chicken or lamb threaded on skewers, chars beautifully. But why does it emerge from the oven tender and juicy instead of incinerated? Yogurt.
As part of a marinade, the dairy’s lactic acid gently breaks down the meat’s proteins in such a way that it retains more moisture during cooking without turning mushy. Thick yogurt also holds seasonings in place so they don’t run off into the fire. And, perhaps most deliciously, the natural sugars in the yogurt caramelize in the high heat. That leaves a charred, beautiful crust with a mellow tang and crispy, flavorful bits.
We took inspiration from this tradition for these yogurt-marinated chicken kebabs from our book “Cook What You Have,” which draws on pantry staples to assemble easy, weeknight meals. Our weeknight-friendly, tandoori-inspired skewers feature an easy marinade of yogurt, paprika, garam masala, cayenne and a few other aromatics. Just whirl everything in a blender, then combine with chunks of chicken. The marinade also helps the kebabs brown beautifully under the broiler.
Rather than marinate the chicken for hours, 30 minutes will boost flavor and tenderize the meat. If you have time, or if it makes things easier, you can marinate the chicken overnight.
Serve with warm naan or basmati rice.
Start to finish: 30 minutes, plus marinating Servings: 4 to 6
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt OR ¾ cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt thinned with 3 tablespoons water
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 medium red OR yellow onion, half roughly chopped, half thinly sliced, reserved separately
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1½ teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper OR ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric OR both
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts OR thighs, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces
In a blender, combine half the yogurt, the garlic, chopped onion, ginger, oil, paprika, garam masala, cayenne, 1¼ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Puree until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping the jar as needed.
Transfer 2 tablespoons of the puree to a small bowl and stir in the remaining yogurt. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Scrape the remaining puree into a medium bowl, add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
Heat the broiler with a rack about 4 inches from the element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, set a wire rack in the baking sheet and mist it with cooking spray. Thread the chicken onto 4 to 6 metal skewers, scraping off excess marinade, and place on the prepared rack.
Broil until charred on the surface, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, flip the skewers and continue to broil until well charred on the second sides and the chicken is just cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes. Serve the skewers with the yogurt sauce and sliced onion.
Optional garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro OR chutney OR sliced tomatoes OR lemon wedges OR a combination
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