tanduri chicken

The history of tanduri chicken dates back to the time of the Mughals. It is a delicately flavoured dish, but you must not over-cook the chicken. Plan ahead; this one takes time.

This recipe is designed to use a barbecue with a lid. Get it really hot, and the results are similar to using a tandoor.

The recipe is the classic North Indian dish, and has its heritage in Persia. It is not hot, but has a gentle and subtle spice background. Part of the flavour comes from the slightly charred outside of the chicken. It is a simple, yet beautiful tasting dish.

You can use breasts, thighs, or chicken pieces. Just adjust cooking times, and use a probe thermometer to measure internal temperatures discussed in the recipe. Under-cooked chicken will more than likely kill or incapacitate your guests or family. Equally, you must not overcook the chicken. Tandoori chicken biscuits, as I have occasionally served, taste terrible. The only thing to be said for them is that they are cooked.

Ensure you remove the skin to prepare the dish, whatever chicken you use.

Note that the chicken needs two separate marination periods, preferably overnight, but longer, up to several days, is good. The cook time is under 30 minutes, but it is worth the preparation time to achieve the most flavour. To do this recipe justice you really need to start it the day before, or sooner.

Tandoori food colour is available from Indian grocers, or you can mix two parts of red to one part yellow colour to get a similar effect. I recommend that if you do use food colour then you should wear gloves when working the marinade into the chicken. If you don’t, then expect orange hands for the next week or so. It just doesn’t wash off.

Tanduri chicken also makes a great starter or snack. As a starter this would serve 6-8 people.

My grandmother’s notes always spelt this as “tanduri chicken”, a habit I have not been able to lose.

the recipe

preparation:15 mins
cook:25 mins
marinate:1 d
total:1 hr
servings:4 servings
calories:299 kcal


  • 800 g chicken breast fillets
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lemon - juiced
  • 2 tsp tandoori food colour - (optional)
  • 150 ml yoghurt
  • 1 red onion - finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic - minced
  • 20 g ginger - minced
  • 1 green chilli - finely chopped
  • 2 tsp garam masala

to serve


  • Divide whole breasts into halves. Lightly score the surface of the chicken breasts on both sides and rub with salt and lemon juice.
  • Dissolve food colour in two tablespoons of water, and paint chicken. Cover and set aside for four hours.
  • Combine onion, garlic, ginger, chilli, garam masala and yoghurt and blend to a smooth paste.
  • Place chicken and any accumulated juices with the yoghurt paste into a bowl. Make sure chicken is completely coated with marinade, and you have worked the marinade into the score marks. Cover, refrigerate, and marinate overnight at a minimum, or better, several days.
  • The chicken can be baked, grilled or (best) barbecued. Make sure oven, griller or barbecue is preheated to maximum temperature. Shake excess marinade off chicken and cook until just done. (Oven is around 20 -25 minutes at 230C, griller or barbecue about 10 minutes a side). Use a food thermometer to ensure an internal temperature of 64C, or 82C if using chicken with bones. It is acceptable and desirable to have a little charring of the marinade.
  • Remove from heat and place on warmed serving dish. Sprinkle with coriander leaves and serve with slices of tomato and cucumber on the side.


  • You must start this recipe at least the day before you intend to cook it.
  • The chicken needs two separate marination periods, and is best left overnight or longer.
  • Ensure you remove any skin from the chicken to prepare the dish.
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