Taking High-Heat Tandoor Techniques To The Backyard Grill : The Salt It's not easy to set up a tandoor oven in the backyard. But chef and writer Madhur Jaffrey says cooking at high heat does something magical to meat, which makes it worthwhile to adapt her tandoor recipes for gas or charcoal grills.
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Taking High-Heat Tandoor Techniques To The Backyard Grill

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Taking High-Heat Tandoor Techniques To The Backyard Grill

Taking High-Heat Tandoor Techniques To The Backyard Grill

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This summer, we're gathering around The Global Grill. We're pulling apart the smoky flavors of grilled foods from around the world to season our own summer barbecues. We began our series with food writer Adam Rapoport of Bon Appetit, author of "The Grilling Book," and he told us the American appetite is globe-trotting in nature.

ADAM RAPOPORT: We love flavor, and I don't think we even think of it in terms of where it comes from. If you have a great recipe, whether it's Middle Eastern or Asian, whatever, you should think of it as a great recipe and something that you love to make. Now, I think that's what makes this a fun, exciting country to live in is that we are so open to so many different flavors and techniques.

SIEGEL: And in that spirit, we're joined today by an authority on flavors and techniques from the Indian subcontinent, the chef and writer Madhur Jaffrey. Welcome to the program.

MADHUR JAFFREY: Hello. How are you?

SIEGEL: Fine. And we're talking not just about food from India but also from Pakistan as well. I associate Indian food with rich sauces and curries. How prominent are grilled, drier foods in the region's cooking?

JAFFREY: Well, you know, when you think of India and Pakistan and you think of summer, seven months of summer...


JAFFREY: ...so we have a rather long summer. And we don't associate one three-month season with grilling. We associate the whole year with the kinds of foods that you would call grilled summer foods. So we actually have a world of foods that are marinated and then grilled, but they're not always grilled the way you think of in America. For example, you could take a piece of chicken. You can marinate it overnight and then cook it on a griddle...

SIEGEL: A griddle.

JAFFREY: ...outside. So, in other words, you have a hibachi-type situation that you've put outdoor somewhere. So a kebab is something that if understood properly can be made on a griddle. It can be made on skewers. It can be made with a little oil, hamburger-like, and you'll find all versions of this in India.

SIEGEL: Now, eventually, we get to the matter of the tandoor, which I gather isn't...


SIEGEL: ...either quite an oven or a grill. Can you describe the tandoor and how food is cooked in the tandoor?

JAFFREY: Well, the history of the tandoor is that it started off actually in the Middle East. And the tandoor was always a clay oven. It was always kept outdoors, and it heated to anywhere from 750 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. So now, that's a hot, hot, hot...


JAFFREY: ...oven, and you have to get used to putting your hand in there. It's a whole technique. And if you put a whole chicken that you've marinated and stick it in, it seals the juices immediately. Ooh. Heat comes in, and the juices are sealed, and the spices go right into the chicken. And then it cooks quite fast, and it's very tender, very, very tender. So this came into India as far as the Punjab, which is now part of it is in Pakistan, part of it is in India.

And in 1947, just to give you a bit of history, when India was partitioned and Pakistan was formed, refugees fled from Pakistan - Hindu refugees - and they brought with them little tandoors, and that's how they came to Delhi.

SIEGEL: So the great separation in India was indeed a great mixing of cooking styles...

JAFFREY: Exactly, exactly. But it tends to be that these kind of kebabs, which are often meat, are eaten by people who obviously eat meat, and Muslims eat a lot of meat. So you find a lot of kebabs in Pakistan, and you find a lot of meat kebabs amongst the nonveg people of India, but they're exceedingly popular.

SIEGEL: Just different meats is the point, obviously.

JAFFREY: It's different meat. And another thing that's very, very popular in both India and Pakistan are innards because we don't throw anything away. We can't afford to.

SIEGEL: Innards, you were saying.

JAFFREY: Innards, innards.

SIEGEL: Sometimes, I should say, politely referred to as giblets in the U.S., yes.

JAFFREY: Well, giblets, so offal, offal.

SIEGEL: Offal. Well, that's not as attractive a word, offal.


SIEGEL: I've never seen offal on a menu, no.

JAFFREY: No. Offal sounds awful, yes, yes.


SIEGEL: Now, just to be clear, the hibachi and the griddle obviously make many of these dishes adaptable to the American backyard in the brief summer as we know it here for - in North America.


SIEGEL: But does the tandoor also have a place in the backyard, or is that too much?

JAFFREY: It does. You can get very cheap ones from the Indian shops, but they're hard to maintain because you have to rub clay on them every now and then. And most households in America don't have access to clay.

SIEGEL: Yes...


JAFFREY: Quick access to clay.


JAFFREY: But you can adapt a lot of the Indian grilled foods. For example, in Pakistan, this thing is called a Chappali Kebab. And a Chappali Kebab is like a hamburger. And then you put into it crushed coriander seeds and cumin seeds and little bits of tomato and green chilies and onions, and cook them like on your grill like a hamburger. And they are absolutely scrumptious. And then don't forget the potatoes on the side. You boil potatoes, rub them with oil. And then I have a plate into which I put cumin seeds ground and coriander seeds ground and chili powder ground and turmeric ground, all mixed up, and then I dip these potatoes and rub them with this mixture and then put them on the grill. And then I serve those with the Chappali Kebab, the Indian hamburger, and it's gorgeous. It's just gorgeous.


SIEGEL: It sounds delicious. Well, Madhur Jaffrey, thank you very much for talking with us. It's really...

JAFFREY: Well, thank you.

SIEGEL: It's fascinating and delicious to listen to you talk.

JAFFREY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: You can find a recipe for those hybrid hamburger kebabs at NPR's food blog The Salt.

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