Tandoori masala is a mixed spice paste or sauce used for many different dishes cooked in a tandoor, which is a type of clay oven.
A multitude of recipes exist for tandoori masala, and many of them use garam masala as a base. Common additions are ginger, onion, garlic, cayenne pepper, cumin, and red chili powder. Some versions contain red food colouring, others contain enough red spices to be red, and some are simply not red.
The ingredients are ground together using a pestle and mortar, and the end result is a loose paste or thick sauce.
What is a tandoor?
A tandoor is a type of traditional cylindrical clay oven found in parts of Asia, including India. A traditional tandoor oven use wood or charcoal which is allowed to burn within the tandoor itself. The food is exposed to live fire, smoke, radiant heat and hot-air convection, and fat and food juices will drip down on the fire. The temperature can become very high, sometimes up towards 480 °C.
The Punjabi tandoor is bell-shaped and can be set into the soil or placed above ground. Punjabi tandoor cooking is a cornerstone of Punjabi cuisine. On the Indian subcontinent, there is a strong association between the tandoor and the Punjabi people. Prior to 1947, many Punjabi villages had a communal tandoor. Today, only a few villages have kept the tradition of the communal oven alive.
The Punjabi people
The Punjabi people is a Punjabi-speaking group associated with the Punjab region; a region that is currently divided between India and Pakistan. Today´s Punjabis belong to a variety of religions, and there are many Punjabi Hindus, Punjabi Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims and Punjabi Christians.
Historically, the Punjabi people consisted of a number of clans called biradari.
The tandoor is used for a variety of dishes. It is for instance a baking oven for making flatbread, a roasting oven to roast cashews, and a cooking oven for tubers, vegetables, chicken and other meats.
Outside India, one of the most well-known tandoori dishes is Punjabi tandoori chicken. The chicken is marinated in honey and yoghurt seasoned with tandoori masala, and then roasted over high heat in the tandoor oven.
Chicken tikka comes from the Mughlai fodd tradition. Small pieces of boneless chicken are marinated in yoghurt and spices, and then cooked on skewers in the tandoor. Green coriander chutney is a traditional side dish for chicken tikka.
If you have chicken drumsticks on hand, you can make tangdi kabab by marinating them in yoghurt and spices for at least twelve hours. Roast in the tandoor, and decorate the drumsticks with mint leaves before serving.
Traditional tandoori chicken is made from small pieces of raw, skinless and boneless chicken that are coated and marinated in yoghurt blended with honey and spices. The tandoori masala chosen for tandoori chicken is usually very red. The marinated chicken is then placed on skewers and roasted in a very hot tandoori oven, where the wood or charcoal imparts a smokey hint to the dish.
According to research headed by the Deccan College Professor Vasant Shinde, a dish very similar to modern tandoori chicken was eaten as early as 3000 BC, during the Harappan civilization.
In the 20th century, Punjabi-style tandoori chicken spread far and wide outside the Punjabi region as many Punjabis migrated. In the late 1940s, trandoori chicken did for instance become popular in New Delhi, where it was promoted by Punjabi Hindus in Daryaganj.
Tandoori chicken is served as a main course, starter or appetizer. Combining it with naan flatbread is popular.