The story behind your takeaway tandoori

Dec 21st 2015 at 4:37 AM

You would be hard-pressed to find an Indian takeaway or curry house here in the UK that failed to feature a selection of succulent, spiced tandoori meats. However, it is a common misconception that the word ‘tandoori’ refers to the recipe that creates these rich, red-hued delicacies. In actual fact, the word refers to the technique of cooking - the hot, clay oven that bakes these treats to perfection. This oven is known as ‘the tandoor’.

The tradition of the tandoor can trace its roots back thousands of years to the period when the fertile reaches of the ancient Indus Valley stretched all the way through north-western India and into the area that is now Pakistan. Excavations in the Harappa and Mohenjdero settlements of this region of India have revealed evidence of clay ovens that would have been used to bake, not just the chicken pieces that we all know and love, but mutton and an assortment of breads too.

As time passed, the use of tandoor ovens continued to thrive in what is now the Punjab region of India. Additionally, the cuisine of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran show evidence of tandoor oven use.

So, how exactly does the tandoor work? The traditional oven itself is a large, clay device that traditionally would have been buried in the ground to prevent any casualties that could occur as a result of its blazing hot walls. The oven sits on a burning fire, a blaze which heats the clay interior to temperatures of around 500 degrees Centigrade (900 degrees Fahrenheit). Inside, the slowly cooking meat sizzles and drizzles fat onto the wood or charcoal below, causing a smoke effect that further heightens the flavour of the meat.

To create the most succulent tandoori meats, the secret lies in the marinade. Thick, plain yoghurt is seasoned with a variety of mouth-watering spices – often those of a rich red colour or sunshine yellow – and used to smother joints or carefully sliced chunks of meat. The consistency of the thick yoghurt means that the spices cling expertly to the mutton, lamb or chicken, allowing the flavours of the spice to sink deep into the meat. It also has the effect of keeping the meats tender and locking in the natural juices to ensure a succulent finish. The marinated samples should be left overnight to allow the flavours to develop before they are threaded onto long, metal skewers, ready to be positioned in the oven.

The ancient tradition of the tandoor is an integral part of northern India’s culinary culture, but never fear – there’s no need to cross oceans in order to sample this delectable fare. Veeraswamy, one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants and one of the most respected in the capital, frequently features tandoori inspired flavours on its ever-changing, seasonal menu.

From a lingering dinner of tender tandoori lamb shanks to a flavoursome tandoori mixed grill, served as a business lunch, this authentic institution creates contemporary Indian cuisine without losing the traditional flavours of India’s culinary heritage.


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