How Marketing Destroyed Tandoori Chicken

A tandoor is a type of traditional Indian oven that generates huge heat. Using a tandoor requires a deft touch and really accurate timing. Using my barbecue in the back garden is a lot more forgiving. I really enjoy a good Tandoori chicken. But, not being armed with the right equipment could be a handicap.

One other handicap many of us in the western world face when preparing ‘authentic’ Indian dishes is the pretty awful marinades and spice blends available. This is very often the fault of the sauce manufacturer’s marketing department (SMMD).

Picture the scene; The guy in the heavy rimmed glasses from the research company is at the head of the table, presenting their findings to the SMMD. “74.7% of our target market enjoy Indian food but 63.2% of that cohort prefer a milder dish.” This done with the support of a few Powerpoint slides showing a couple of pie charts and some scatter diagrams.

The Brand Manager for Ethnic Sauces and Dry Spice Rubs (six weeks out of a part time marketing course) feels the need to be seen to contribute to the conversation. “Then, does the data supports reducing the chilli and paprika and replacing the yoghurt with a creamier sauce?” Heavy Rim Guy nods in agreement. In truth, he has no idea what that means, never haven eaten anything more adventurous than a mild cheese sandwich. The meeting has eleven other brands to get through before handing the room back to New Product Development, so the suggestion (supported by the research data) gets the nod. Instructions are passed to production and a “NEW IMPROVED FLAVOUR” marinade is launched on the market.

Nobody is offended by the new sauce. But nobody is particularly impressed either. It’s safe to feed the kids and the parents put up with the insipid flavour for an easy life.

I have had enough of all this and am making my own tandoori spice blend. This with a view to making as decent tandoori chicken as I can on my barbecue.

This is not difficult. Seven ingredients and one mixing bowl will do it.

Ingredients for the Tandoori spice blend

  • 100 grammes of ground ginger
  • 100 grammes of ground coriander
  • 100 grammes of sweet paprika
  • 100 grammes of piment d’espelette
  • 80 grammes of salt
  • 100 grammes of turmeric
  • 100 grammes of ground cumin

This list looks very similar to others out there. However, I like to use the piment d’espelette for a richer flavour and a little less raw heat than is some of the other blends around. I also use less salt than others might find appropriate.

Like I say, this is not difficult to prepare.

To ‘make’ the spice blend, blend the spices together. Reserve a large tablespoon of spice before bagging up the balance and freezing. Freezing keeps them in the dark (unless the light really stays on in the freezer when the door is closed) and holds flavour too. It can be used straight from the freezer.

Add 200 ml or so of yoghurt to the reserved spice mixture.

Another bit of stirring is all that is needed.

Squeeze the juice of a lemon and stir to combine. Spoon this mixture into a ziplock bag. Add the (eight) boneless, skinless chicken thighs to the bag. Zip it closed. Massage the sauce to coat the chicken well. Pop it in the fridge and leave overnight.

Trust me, there are 8 chicken thighs in the bag.

Fire up the barbecue and cook the chicken thighs. The thighs need to be cooked over a medium heat, NOT hot.

Tandoori Chicken (8 of 13)

My tandoori is not bright red. I’ll never be able to market it!

Add the delicious tandoori sauce as you go. Be sure to cook the sauce as well as the chicken as it will be full of chicken bacteria (I don’t want to put you off but I also don’t want to be carrying the can for you feeling unwell).

Tandoori Chicken (9 of 13)

Don’t waste the delicious sauce. It is beautiful on the chicken.

Serve the chicken with chutney and Naan bread. I strongly recommend making your own. It is really easy to do and very well worth the little bit of effort involved. There are plenty of recipes online. I followed this one on the BBC food channel. It is delicious.

Tandoori Chicken

Delicious Tandoori chicken and Naan bread.

The marketeers may working hard to kill off tandoori sauces and spice mixes. However, try this one. It is very well balanced and full of flavour. You will not be disappointed.



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Latest comments
  • I add a little bit of oil also to the masala mix and yogurt before marination, this gives a very nice smoky effect while on fire… somehow i find it better than braising the chicken while on the grill.

  • That looks excellent – home made is best!
    A couple of years ago, Pataks “improved” their Lime Pickle. About a year later, after a huge drop in sales and a mountain of complaints, they brought the original recipe back.

  • You’re so right. ‘New and Improved’ always raises a red flag in a familiar and beloved product or ingredient. Generally it means ‘Inferior and Lower Quality’. Your recipe is simple and straightforward, and leaves no excuses for not making your own naan!

  • Here here! Homemade is much much better than any commercial product and that especially applies to tandoori spice paste. There is no comparison IMHO. Having said that I haven’t served t in ages, I must put that right

      • Been making my own tandoori spice for years, the recipe is hidden deep in my blog’s archive

  • That marinade/sauce is a beautiful thing. I do have a curry powder that I use in a pinch, but there’s no reason not to use individual spices to create Indian dishes. Who would want everything to taste the same? I’ve never purchased pre-made sauces but I can’t imagine they’re very good. They can’t even get a marinara sauce right!

      • Nor have I. I’ve read a few labels, then put those jars back. Horrible stuff.

  • great post! Made me literally laugh out loud!

    love your choice of spices, I might make it but use my Kashmir red pepper just because… 😉

  • I suspect that marketing scene goes on all too often…still don’t understand how something can be both “new” and “improved.” 😉

    Hubby and I had a wonderful Indian meal Sunday at our favorite haunt that’s 10 minutes from us. I may or may not have eaten a whole potion of their fantastic garlic naan by myself. I’m afraid to now have access to a good recipe.

    Do you think I could sub hot paprika for the piment? If so, I don’t have to go shopping to make your chicken.

  • I love your mix because I always make my own spices, but I keep them in my cupboard. Thanks for the tip on putting them in the freezer.

  • Hear! Hear! Use a lot of tandoori spice mixes because of health reasons (sorry 🙂 !) already . . . . mine is a little different to yours – shall make it your ‘way’ next time around and try . . . .

  • Right up there with making some tandoori pink. Yours on the other hand looks amazing and edible! We do at times use premade pastes but we add to them. The sauces we avoid. Like the plague!

  • This does look delish! I wondered if you’d cook it over a very high heat and am a little relieved that’s not the case…so much easier and doesn’t need precision split second timing. New and Improved. It makes me shudder, because it usually means lesser quality – but don’t forget it also usually means (at least in the States) smaller containers and a higher price!

  • Conor. You have to finish that script ASAP. Because it’s a new sitcom set in the offices of a marketing company, right? Although I foresee a problem. Generally people who write for the screen have no experience of the settings they’re writing about. Could you do an outline instead and pass it off to a 25-year old who’s 6 weeks out of a screenwriting course? We’ll be RICH!!
    On the other hand, I might settle for some chicken.

  • You gave me a chuckle with this one. The marketing meeting and does the light really goes off when the door shuts. 😀 Great looking chicken.

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