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All about the tandoor oven

You may have heard of dishes such as tandoori chicken, but how much do you actually know about tandoori cooking?

The term ‘tandoor’ refers to a range of cylindrical metal or clay ovens that are used to cook and bake a host of Indian delicacies. The word itself has many origins, with variations being found in languages such as Dari, Persian, Armenian, Arabic and Hebrew. The Dehkhoda Persian Dictionary suggest that it originates from the Akkadian tinûru, with ‘tin’ meaning mud and ‘nuru’ meaning fire.

There are many different types of tandoor throughout Southern, Central and Western Asia. The most common type of tandoor used in India is the Punjabi tandoor, as Punjabis were the first people to embrace tandoor cooking on a regional level – to this day, some villages still use a communal tandoor, which would have been a common sight in the mid-20th century.

Traditionally, heat is produced by burning wood or charcoal within the tandoor itself, creating live flames and hot air that gives tandoori food its distinctive taste – particularly when cooking meat, as the fat creates smoke when the juices drip onto the charcoal.

Temperatures within a tandoor oven can reach up to 480°C (900°F), and ovens are often left lit for long periods of time to allow this temperature to remain consistently high. This allows chefs to use them throughout the day to prepare lunches, snacks and dinners.

As previously mentioned, Indian cuisine features a range of dishes that are traditionally cooked in a hot tandoor oven. In the UK, the most well-known of these is probably chicken tikka, a dish taken from Mughlai cuisine. Small pieces of boneless chicken are marinated in yoghurt and spices, before being put onto skewers and grilled in the oven. This is usually served with a green coriander chutney, or as the basis or chicken tikka masala.

Another popular dish prepared in a tandoor oven is tandoori chicken. Whole chickens are marinated in yoghurt, garam masala, garlic, ginger, cumin, cayenne pepper and other spices, with red chilli powder giving it is signature bright red colour. This is then roasted at a high temperature.

Tandoor ovens aren’t only used for cooking meat; they can also be used to create delicious grilled and roasted vegetable dishes such as Balochi aloo – potatoes stuffed with cottage cheese, vegetables and cashew nuts – and peshwariseekh, a paste made from roasted cashews, corn and cottage cheese, which is marinated in spices and grilled on the tandoor.

They are also perfect for creating flatbreads such as roti, naan and paratha, as well as crispy delicacies such as samosas – a stuffed pastry snack filled with spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils and coriander.

So now that you know a little more about tandoori cooking, you’re probably desperate to try some authentic tandoori food for yourself. Head to one of London’s best fine-dining Indian restaurants, where their expert regional chefs combine traditional cooking techniques such as tandoori with quality ingredients, modern flavours and a unique creative flair – it has to be tasted to be believed!

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