Technique: Tandoor Cooking
A technique of cooking meat, fish, poultry or bread. Meats often are coated with a paste made of ginger, cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, cayenne, pureed garlic, pureed ginger, lemon juice and oil.
A Tandoor is a cylindrical (almost bee-hive shaped) clay oven used in the Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, in which food is cooked over a hot charcoal fire. The tandoor design is something of a transitional form between a makeshift earth oven and the horizontal-plan masonry oven, and is used almost exclusively for live-fire, radiant heat cooking.
Typically a tandoor is dug into the ground or built into an enclosure. It is buried or enclosed to hold in the heat and to keep anyone from coming in contact with the outside surface. The real secret is that heat can only escape it through the top. The direct heat of the fire is reflected by the ceramic sides intensifying the heat and creating a cooking environment that easily reaches 480°C (900°F), and it is common for tandoor ovens to remain lit for long periods of time to maintain the high cooking temperature.
The tandoor cooks by a combination of heat from smoldering embers in the bottom and heat which has been retained by the thick, clay walls and is re-radiated as you cook. The intense heat cooks meat very quickly and seals in the juices, producing the distinctive and succulent results which characterize tandoori food.
The tandoor is currently a very important fixture in many Indian restaurants around the world. Some modern day tandoors use electricity or gas instead of charcoal.
Marinated meats are lowered into the oven on long metal skewers and cooked in this smoky and extremely hot environment until done. Breads are cooked by being stuck to the inside of the oven.
The secret of any tandoori dish lies in the Marinade and the marinade used in most any tandoori dish starts with yogurt. Yogurt has a natural acidity and it is thick so it holds to the meat well and keeps the herbs and spices in place. Tandoori is also flavored traditionally with ginger, garlic, coriander powder, cayenne pepper, and garam masala along with other spices and flavorings. The meat is allowed to sit in the marinade for hours or even overnight. The longer the meat is left in the marinade the better...and shorter the cooking process as yogurt acts as a tenderizer. Some times especially in the case of cooking lamb, beef or Goat meat better known as mutton, green skin of raw papaya is used as a meat tenderizer.
Vegetables are similarly marinated but not for as long as there is no tenderizing. Paneer (cottage cheese) is a popular vegetarian option for tandoori.
Indian Bread (roti, naan) is cooked in the tandoor by being stuck to the side of the pre-heated oven. Tandoori Rotis and Naan are best eaten with tandoori dishes and Indian Curries. Making Roti's and Naan in a tandoor is a skill that not only requires a deft hand but also some tolerance to high temperatures. The result tho is a flat bread similar to the Middle eastern Pita bread, it's flaky on he outside but soft in the center. It can be used to scoop other foods, or served stuffed with a filling: for example, keema naan is stuffed with a minced meat mixture (usually lamb or mutton)whereas Kashmiri naan are filled with a mixture of nuts and raisins and aloo naan is stuffed with potatoes.