Sunday, 6 July 2014

Monsoon grill: Tandoori Chicken Tikka

Winters, the twilight hues, the familiar comfort of an old cardigan, old friends, a new lover, the sound of music, chatter and laughter, charring meat on a wood fire, a sip of rum, of days gone by and those around the corner, on the sly.

I fall in the category of people who maintain 'to-do' lists! I have the regular things-to-do, books-to-read and places-to-visit before I die lists and then I have lists for different moods, seasons, etc etc. And an open-air grilling extravaganza tops my list for the winters. But winter is months away, and as I write this, I can see the grey skies that have inspired in me several bouts of listless despondency this last week. No, do not get me wrong. I love rains. It's this insipid, grey monsoon skies that merely tantalizes you with the probability of rains, without delivering any, which inspires this melancholy.

But winters or not, last night we grilled meat under the night sky alright.

Last week, when my little brother, who is not so little any more, proposed that he would like to usher in his birthday, which is today, with a rooftop barbecue, I told him that he should never take up an IQ test, lest the results cause irreparable damage to his self esteem. In other words, I called him a nincompoop! It had rained heavily all week, I reminded him. I showed him the BBC's weather forecast. Chances of heavy rains through this week, they said!

But if the relationship between a brother and sister is nothing less than sacred, then it wouldn't be anything short of sacrilege if he would agree with me. We are talking about honour here, honour and tradition. So the moment I opposed the idea of a grill al fresco, was the moment he froze on the idea. Rain or not, we are grrlling some meat, he said, and within minutes every one of his gang members had received the invitation. "And you marinate the meats for us, a couple of different kinds of kebabs would do. We'll do the rest!" he said, as he tossed his shirt, doused in sweat, at my face.

Well yes, my brother is almost seven years younger than me and yet he always issues orders when I am concerned. I do not know what a request would sound like, if it comes from him, I have given up hope, I have convinced myself this too is love, though my doubts are stronger than my conviction. However, if I need a favour of him, I have to wheedle. Beg too! At time. OK fine...always!

So, this past week, I watched with glee as he Googled "Calcutta weather update" a hundred times and I smirked with smug satisfaction. 'You have an important lesson to learn," I told him. And every time it rained, umm drizzled, I asked him "So what is it that you're doing this Saturday night?" And on Thursday when I heard him discuss a backup plan with his friend on the phone, I heard the first bells of victory! I marinated the meats anyway, late Friday night. When it comes to kebabs, especially with red meat, I believe in overnight marination. I could always grill the meat in my kitchen.

I was definite there would be no monsoon barbecue. But the Gods were laughing somewhere. Come Saturday, it did not as much as drizzle the whole day and by evening the skies had cleared up. Karma, I believe. He has done something right in some life. So the barbecue was on, the meat steeped in flavours was ready to hit the fire and I was not the one laughing the last laugh. Not yet

So I made two different kinds of kebabs for last night. Mutton Boti Kebabs and Tandoori Chicken Tikka. Now over the years I have developed a penchant for cooking with as few ingredients as possible. I have often recreated my favourite classics with fewer ingredients and with excellent results. I like distinct, lucid flavours, instead of a muddle of too many flavours. It makes me feel sick. I want neat flavours! I love the mutton Boti kebab especially because it has a few fresh flavours and almost no spices, except for the little required to enhance, and not overwhelm, the flavour of the meat itself. And in case of my Tandoori Chicken Tikka, I use fewer spices than what you may find in the usual tandoori masala. But the results are drool worthy.

It not easy to please a gang of hungry college goers! And last night was a massive success! If my brother said "The Kebabs were brilliant and my friends went cray," I must have done it right. What he doesn't know is that I had sneaked out a few pieces of meat and had hidden it in the refrigerator to grill this morning. The meat is in the oven and trust me the aroma is driving me crazy.

Tandoori Chicken Tikka 


Boneless chicken - 1 kg
Curd - 100 g + 2 tbsp
Green chili paste - 1 tsp
Ginger paste - 1.5 tbsp
Garlic paste - 1 tsp
Minced raw papaya - 1.5 tsp
Red chili powder - 1 tsp
Red or orange colour - few drops (optional)
Salt to taste
Coriander seeds (lightly roasted and coarsely ground) - 1.5 tbsp
Garam Masala: Dry roast the ingredients below and grind to a powder
Cardamom- 3-4
Cinnamon stick - 1 inch
Cloves - 3-4
Peppercorns - 4-5
Oil as required
Butter (melted) for brushing the meat.


Marinate the meat with all the other ingredients for at least 6 hours.

Grill on a wood fire or in the oven at 200 degree centigrade until meat is tender and slightly charred around he edges. Approximately, 25 minutes! Brush with melted butter from time to time.

Serve with lime wedges, onions and mint chutney!

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