Currying favor with summer grillin' 

Tandoori Chicken

I had been home only 12 hours after a blissed-out trip to Puerto Rico when a panicked e-mail arrived. It was from my friend, who was in desperate need of a last-minute catering fix.

After I unpacked and got the sand out of my toes, I volunteered to cook lunch for eight people, who were business types, mostly British.

I had little time for creative pondering -- let alone tearing through recipe files. Then, a flicker of cross-cultural inspiration hit me. What do Brits love, and what have they loved for the past two centuries? Indian food.

And then I thought, let's fool with the calendar and prepare a summer meal.

Summer means barbecue, and in Indian cuisine, that means tandoori. Traditionally, meat or fish is bathed in a highly spiced yogurt-citrus marinade, and then "grilled" in a tandoor, a charcoal-powered, cylindrical clay oven that is blisteringly hot. No need to worry about procuring the ancient Punjabi apparatus, though. A basic grill or even a very hot oven will substitute nicely. And surely if you fire up the Weber grill, summer will come knocking, Delhi-style.

A few notes: That funky pink-orange tandoori chicken you've had in restaurants is most likely the victim of red food coloring in powder form. Traditionally, the stain was derived naturally from the pigments in paprika, cayenne, saffron or ground annatto seed. Try painting your chicken the old-fashioned way, with spices, which will impart some flavor as well.

Tandoori Chicken

Adapted from The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, Volume II

10-12 pieces chicken parts, skinned

2-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped

6 garlic cloves

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons paprika

4 tablespoons juice of a lemon or lime

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

2/3 cup plain yogurt

1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon

8 green cardamom pods, husked

10 whole cloves

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne

1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon coriander

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

• Rinse chicken parts and pat dry. With a sharp knife, make an "X" incision on each side. Place chicken in a non-reactive dish.

• Using a mortar and pestle, pound ginger and garlic with salt. Add paprika and stir to combine. Pour citrus juice over chicken and rub in paste. Cover and let marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to one hour.

• In the meantime, combine remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until finely pureed. Pour over the chicken and rub well, turning several times, pushing marinade into crevices and coating evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours and up to 24 hours, turning occasionally.

• To cook, grill or roast. If roasting, cook at high heat for first 15 minutes, about 500 degrees, then bring down to 350 or 375 degrees. Cook until the meat has arrived at an internal temperature of 160 degrees. I also like to grill first, for char flavor, and then finish the chicken in a 400-degree oven. Let rest and serve.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim at kim.donnel@creativeloafing.com

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