Tandoori Chicken

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Styling Deborah Chud

STRATEGY SESSION: My allies here are Chicken Liposuction and its side-kick, under-the-skin flavoring. The former reduces total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories; the latter drives flavor directly into the meat and keeps it moist.


You may know Steven Raichlen from his popular TV shows Barbecue University™ and Primal Grill, or from his award-winning books The Barbecue Bible and How to Grill, but I know him from Miami-where both he  and my extended family live. We met in 1996 while I was working on The Gourmet Prescription. My publisher arranged for us to have lunch together in the hope that Steven would write the foreward to my book. I remember the exact moment he decided to do it: I was describing the strategy behind my low-fat version of Julia Child’s Coq au Vin. I told him how I had omitted the bacon and achieved a similar flavor by smoking the vegetables (without any fat!) in a stove-top smoker. Done deal.

Now that he’s become the world’s grilling guru, it’s easy to forget that he’s also a healthy cooking  hero. In the 1990s, a personal struggle with high cholesterol inspired him to write the revolutionary High-Flavor, Low-Fat cookbook series, which I bought in its entirety. Here was a serious and ingenious global cook, for whom every cuisine could be made healthier through the application of certain basic principles. In some sense, all of the work I’ve done derives from those early Raichlen lessons.

It’s with enormous pleasure that I present, with Steven’s permission, my adaptation of his Tandoori recipe from High-Flavor, Low-fat Chicken. My adaptation? Talk about chutzpah!! How dare I tinker with the master’s recipe? Here’s my defense: First, it’s what cooks do. Second, the original recipe, though excellent, calls for skinless, boneless chicken breasts—which are at the bottom of the chicken flavor scale. (Steven uses them because they’re quick and easy to marinate, skewer, and grill.)  Third, because his marinade is SO delicious, I wanted more of it to remain on the chicken than I could achieve with his method. (Most of the marinade stayed on the grill when I took my skewers off.) In my version, a split broiler is roasted. The marinade adheres to the meat because it is held in place by the skin which is removed after roasting.

So much for chutzpah; on to sacrilege. All I can say is: My son made me do it! He’s 23 years old and a terrific guy, but somewhere along the line he got the idea that an entree is incomplete without a sauce. Of course, tandoori chicken has no sauce. Chutney, with which it’s often served, is welcomed, but  it does not pre-empt “Where’s the sauce?”  To avoid that dagger-in-the-heart, I improvise a simple one using the pan drippings.  I add 1 cup chicken broth to the pan after the first 30 minutes of roasting. When the chicken is done, I tansfer it to a platter and scrape up the brown bits in the bottom of the pan. Then I strain and degrease the drippings which make a very respectable sauce just as they are. By the way, don’t tell Steven about the sauce; he just might excommunicate me.

Serving suggestions: I always serve this chicken with a 50-50 mixture of chutney (spicy plum is my favorite) and 2% Greek yogurt (Fage brand). The yogurt lowers the glycemic impact of the chutney, which has a high glycemic index. If you prefer your chutney straight up, you can serve Cucumber-Mint Raita on the side. I also like legumes with this dish, especially lentils or chickpeas with Indian spices. Some sautéed greens, such as spinach or chard, would be nice too.

Note:  My marinade sticks pretty close to the original except that I use low-fat instead of nonfat yogurt, a little more garlic, and hot red pepper flakes instead of the optional bird chilies. I add 1½  teaspoons salt, but I’ve left it “to taste” as in Steven’s version.

Tandoori Chicken

  • 2 cups plain low-fat yogurt
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallot or ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1½ tablespoons minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 (4-pound) chicken, split in half lengthwise
  • 1 teaspoon macadamia nut oil, or other neutral oil (optional)
  • 1 cup chicken broth (optional)
  1. In and bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, shallots, garlic, ginger, and tomato paste. Process until smooth. Transfer the yogurt mixture to a large bowl or measuring cup and stir in the pepper flakes, cumin, coriander, turmeric, black pepper, cardamom, and salt. Whisk to blend well.
  2. Loosen the chicken skin by slipping your fingers under it, creating a space between it and the meat. If necessary, use a sharp knife to cut though the connective tissue. Then gently push the skin back and use the knife to remove as much fat as possible from the chicken without piercing the flesh or tearing the skin.
  3. Place the chicken in a baking dish or plastic container large enough to hold the 2 halves in 1 layer. Take 1 chicken half and gently pull back the skin. Pour about ¼ of the marinade over the flesh, making sure to get it between the thigh and the skin, as well as under the thigh where it meets the breast. Pull the skin back into its normal position, enclosing the marinade between it and the flesh. Place the chicken half skin side down in the container. Repeat with the other half. Then take the remaining marinade and pour it over the exposed undersides of both halves. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Prepare a roasting pan with a rack. Place the chicken halves skin side down on the rack. Use 3 or 4 trussing skewers to hold the skin of each half in its normal position  (as demonstrated at the end of the Chicken Liposuction video).
  5. Place in the oven and roast 30 minutes. Turn and brush with the oil, if using. If making the sauce, add the broth to the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the oven and roast another 30 minutes or until cooked through and the juices run clear.
  6. Transfer the chicken to a platter. If making the sauce, scrape up the brown bits in the bottom of the pan. Strain and degrease. Cut the chicken into serving pieces and serve immediately, with the sauce, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

Per serving: Calories 242, 5 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 111 mg cholesterol, 9 g total carbohydrate, trace dietary fiber, 39 g protein, 214 mg sodium.


  • November 20 2009, 11:43 PM
    Roget y Laurita Gris

    we love your website!

  • November 22 2009, 8:17 PM

    This sounds truly fabulous. Love tandoori and haven’t made it in a while — sauce or no sauce!

  • November 23 2009, 8:32 AM

    If you like Tandoori, I really think you’ll enjoy this. Make sure you put the marinade under the skin of the chicken as demonstrated in the video. If you apply it on top of the skin only, very little of the flavor will be imparted to the meat.

  • December 28 2009, 11:58 AM
    chocolate shavings

    I absolutely love tandoori chicken, and the skin on that chicken looks amazing!

  • December 28 2009, 7:45 PM
    Cibaria Oils

    I’ve never had Tandoori, but this dish definitely makes me want to try it! Great work!

  • December 29 2009, 12:41 AM

    You are extremely kind and I deeply appreciate your enthusiasm. This was not an easy photo to do- and the photographer was so unsatisfied that she refused to let me give attribution. Nevertheless, I’m very glad you like it and you MUST try Tandoori!!

  • December 29 2009, 11:08 AM
    [email protected]

    Another great recipe, love tandoori… I think I’ll whip up a little chutney and dig in!!!

  • December 29 2009, 4:11 PM

    As I think I mentioned to someone yesterday, I love this so much I make it for myself! (My husband doesn’t like Indian food.) I have it in my fridge as I write and can’t wait until dinner! I’ m very partial to the Virginia Chutney Company’s Spicy Plum Chutney, which I mix with 2% fat Greek yogurt. It’s delicious with the chicken.

  • December 29 2009, 7:02 PM

    Chocolate Shavings,
    My original response to you seems to have disappeared, so I’ll respond again. I cook this for myself all the time. Because my husband doesn’t like Indian food. I end up eating it every night for almost a week and I never tire of it. That probably says something about me, but it also says something about the chicken. It’s really good- even if you don’t eat the skin!

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