The tandoor has been an important cooking device for humans for over thousands of years. Its remnants were located in excavations that confirmed the existence of a civilisation known as the Indus Valley Civilisation which encompassed modern day north-east Afghanistan, Pakistan and the north of India. Some historians trace the tandoor’s origins back to Persia or modern-day Iran.
The Mughals, during their reign of parts of northern India popularised the use of the tandoor and heavily relied on it for meat-based dishes. The tandoor remains a central feature in Punjabi cuisine with many dishes requiring its use. In rural Punjab, the tandoor also functioned as a meeting place for village women to come together at the communal kitchen in their village to prepare meals.
It seems that our ancestors were on the right track with the tandoor and appreciated its ability to seal in the natural flavours of the ingredients. We have all heard of tandoori chicken and it is always a sell-out item on most menus at Indian restaurants. Perhaps the most common misunderstanding is that tandoori refers to a recipe rather than a cooking technique. It is in fact a combination of ingredients and the cooking technique that makes food prepared in a tandoor taste like something from out of this world.
I recall winter road trips throughout the north of India where my friends and I would stop off at a dhaba (highway eatery) for a hot meal prepared fresh. We would bundle into the bench and order our favourites like aloo paratha or dal makhani accompanied by naan or tandoori roti. The tandoor was usually located in the open kitchen, radiating a comforting warmth irresistible to my cold fingers which were soon hovering over the heat. The aroma of tandoori items permeated the space and mingled with the fragrant spices and the trinity of ginger, garlic and onion being sauteed in oil. The result was food with an earthy flavour and prepared in a short amount of time.
A bakery in Leh, Ladakh - Kelly Chang
Paneer on the tandoor
Features of the tandoor
Form - A tandoor is a vertical, cylindrical oven and food is placed into it from the opening at the top. Skewers of meat or vegetables are lowered in from the top and breads like naan or roti are cooked by being stuck to the walls of the tandoor.
Material - Traditionally tandoors were made of clay but nowadays you can find metal tandoors being sold for home use. The combination of natural elements like clay and charcoal to fire it up and smoke infused from juices dripping onto the coal, enable the food prepared within to take on earthy flavours.
Heat - Tandoors are heated by woodfire or charcoal and can reach temperatures of 400 to 500 degrees centigrade. The heat circulates around the tandoor and can be maintained for long periods, making tandoors economically and environmentally sustainable. The cook marinates the meat with yoghurt and spices before lowering it into the tandoor. The heat’s key function is to lock in the flavours and juices of the item being cooked, something that can only be achieved with high temperatures and short cooking periods.
Tandoor Smoke Hack
After reading this, you are probably craving those tandoor flavours but do not exactly have a tandoor handy (not many people would!). We have the perfect hack to help you. Once you have baked or grilled your meat, place it into a serving dish with a small bowl into which you drop a red, hot coal and add half a tablespoon of ghee over it before closing the serving dish. This allows the smoke to become infused in the meat and create something akin to the flavours produced by a tandoor. We did this with chicken and you can see what it looks like below.
Now that you know about the importance of the tandoor in north-Indian cuisine and are equipped with this hack, we hope that you try preparing more tandoor-inspired dishes. We can get your journey started with our authentic tandoori spice blend which can be used to prepare chicken, paneer or even tofu as per your preference.