Tandoori Chicken & Dual Marinade: Recalling Madhur Jaffrey's Tip

When the iconic Madhur Jaffrey made tandoori chicken for the celebrated American chef and author James Beard, the latter could immediately taste a second marinade. In a 1980 issue of Food & Wine, Jaffrey writes,” The first time I made tandoori chicken for James Beard. he took one bite and said casually, ‘This has two marinades, how interesting. With his sharp palate. he knew immediately. A properly made tandoori chicken does indeed. have two marinades — one of just salt and lime juice, and another containing yoghurt, onion, garlic, ginger, green chillies, and garam masala (an aromatic spice mixture containing cardamom seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, peppercorns, and black cumin seeds).”

The dual marinade technique is a flavour-sealing technique which is a great idea for recipes which have to be slow-grilled or skewered for hours. The first marinade serves as a tenderizer and flavour infuser for the chicken. 

Typically, it consists of yoghurt, lemon juice, salt, and a blend of spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, and garam masala. Yoghurt helps to break down the proteins in the chicken, making it more tender and juicy. The acidic nature of lemon juice further aids in the tenderization process while imparting a tangy flavour to the meat.

Additionally, the spices used in the first marinade create a robust flavour base that permeates the chicken, infusing it with the aromatic essence of Indian cuisine. Each spice contributes its unique profile, enhancing the complexity of the dish and elevating its taste to new heights. By allowing the chicken to marinate in this flavorful mixture for several hours or overnight, the meat becomes imbued with rich, multidimensional flavours that are characteristic of authentic Tandoori chicken.

The second marinade often applied just before cooking, also intensifies the colour and crisping the exterior of the chicken. This marinade typically includes ingredients such as Kashmiri red chilli powder, turmeric, and sometimes food colouring (such as red or orange) to achieve the signature vibrant hue of Tandoori chicken.

Kashmiri red chilli powder, known for its deep red colour and mild heat, not only imparts a visually striking appearance to the chicken but also adds another layer of flavour without overwhelming the palate. Turmeric, with its golden yellow hue, further enhances the vibrancy of the dish while offering subtle earthy notes.

By marinating the chicken in the first mixture for an extended period, the flavours have ample time to penetrate the meat and develop richness. The second marinade then adds the finishing touches, imparting colour and crispness to the exterior while preserving the juiciness of the chicken.