The Secrets of the Tandoor

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Most chefs and cooks want their clients to keep coming back for more, and want to give them the best possible culinary experience. A great way of doing this is by using a tandoor.

When it comes to cooking in a tandoor, once you get started you will be hooked and your clientele will be too. You won’t be able to resist the succulent, tender, smoky flavours from cooking directly above slow burning charcoal wood.

I would like to immediately correct a common misconception about tandoori cooking. Many people think that the word ‘tandoori’ is a recipe, but the true meaning is actually a method of cooking. A tandoor is a large solid clay pot with outer metal surrounds. The clay pot contains a fire of slow burning wood charcoal which is used to create the most amazing flavours that you simply can’t get from any other style of cooking. The charcoal fire is bounced off the ceramic walls of the tandoor, creating temperatures up to 480 °C (900 °F) and occasionally even hotter. This style of cooking is well suited to outdoor catering, and is great for events held in hotels.

One of the delights of a tandoor is to be able to create mouth-watering tender and moist meats, packed with flavour from their marinades. Yogurt is commonly used, due to its acidity, along with roasted chick flour. The marinade clings to the meat, locking in all the spices.

Using the skin of a raw papaya also helps red meats in particular, as the enzymes in the papaya help to break down the fibres of the meat, helping the meat to become really tender. Another great thing about cooking in a tandoor is that nearly all of the meat and vegetarian dishes can be prepared and marinated overnight. I have found this to be very valuable, in saving preparation time on the day of an event.

Creating marinades for your dishes is straight forward. Some of my favourite marinades consist of natural plain yogurt and tenderisers like papaya, pineapple, mango powder or even kiwi fruit. The spices which I use are generally freshly roasted green cardamom, cumin, coriander seeds, fenugreek leaves, nutmeg, cassia bark and fennel seeds. Anything which imparts amazing aromatic flavours works well in a tandoor. Adding a little warmth from some freshly ground mild dry red Kashmiri chillies also helps to makes the perfect marinade. If you are creating marinades for kids, then coconut milk and cashew paste both work well.

You can also create freshly baked healthy Indian breads, like naan, by placing them on the upper inside part of the tandoor. I never coat mine in ghee or butter. For vegetarians, delicious paneer marinated in Indian pickling spices will send people’s taste buds into overdrive. I’ve recently created a beautiful vegan dish using baby aubergines which works incredibly well in a tandoor. I love marinating lamb in gooseberries and zingy zesty spices, then lowering it towards the fiery embers. In 10-12 minutes you can have a tender, succulent, juicy piece of charred meat.

I have always found that there are three over-riding advantages of cooking in a tandoor:

  • The quality of the food and the flavours are amazing
  • It’s generally healthy, with a good amount of any fat used rendering to the bottom of the tandoor
  • It saves time, which has real value for large catering events compared to conventional ovens and BBQs.

YoFresh Montgomery Lamb Kebabsu might have guessed by now – I am a big fan of the tandoor! It’s a really versatile piece of cooking equipment, in which chefs and cooks can hone their culinary skills and give their customers a wide range of imaginative signature dishes.

Try this masala mix, which my father and I perfected in our back garden many years ago. We spent many evenings cooking outdoors, using the coal bunker which my father had converted into a tandoor!

Masala Mix


4 tbs coriander seeds

2 tbs cumin seeds

1 tsp ajwain (carom seeds)

2 tbs fennel seeds

1 tbs fenugreek leaves

2 tbs mango powder

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tbs allspice (also called Jamaica Pepper or Pimento Berries)


Place a large dry frying pan on a low heat, add all the spices and gently warm through.

I think for best results you just want to tease the spices a little and you should only warm them for 1-2 minutes and try not to toast them.

Remove from the heat and allow the spices to cool.

Once cool, grind the spices in a pestle and mortar for best results (you can use a coffee grinder).

Then to create your marinade, simply add some of the masala mix to a large bowl along with some natural yogurt, lemon or white wine vinegar and a tenderiser if you are marinating red meat.

Use the skin of a raw papaya for red meat. For chicken buttermilk works really well.

You can see Anjula in action at Speciality & Fine Food Fair. Find out more here.

By Anjula Devi 


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