Tandoori chicken is not really a recipe. Rather, this is a method of cooking marinated chicken in a bell-shaped clay oven called a tandoor. In Asia, the oven is mainly used to bake Indian flatbread, also referred to as naan, by adhering the soft dough to the curved sides of the hot oven. The tandoor oven is fueled by burning coals or a wood fire. To cook chicken in a tandoor oven, several pieces of the meat are skewered onto a long metal spit that is placed inside the oven standing up.
In lieu of a tandoor oven, you can cook the marinated chicken over a charcoal grill or in a regular oven. I make tandoori style chicken a few times a year on my grill. I decided to make it again recently. I marinated the chicken overnight and then the skies opened up the next day. There was no chance I was going to fire up my grill. I decided to cook the chicken in my air fryer. It worked better than I had imagined and will be the way I make this dish all winter.
The Essentials of a Good Tandoori Chicken Recipe
I use dark meat for tandoori chicken because it is less likely to dry out, and it is the only way I have been served it in my favorite Indian restaurants. The pieces of meat are normally cooked bone-in and skin removed. Removing the skin allows for the marinade to really get into the flesh and give it the distinctive reddish hue. It also prevents flare-ups from the fire. I do it differently when cooking in the air fryer.
I used to remove the skin before marinating. However, I really like the flavor and crispy texture of the skin. I just make slits with a sharp knife through the skin, and just slightly into the flesh, approximately every 1-1/2 inches. I make sure the marinade gets under the skin. I guarantee you will really like the skin on when making this in an air fryer.
Tandoori chicken is traditionally red in color. Some cooks actually add food coloring to the marinade to achieve this. More seasoned chefs, and those of us averse to food coloring, use the liquid from juiced beets, saffron threads, or both. Juicing fresh beets isn’t always practical. Just skip that step and accept that the chicken will be less red and a little more yellow. It is all about the flavor, not the color. I love the flavor of saffron, so I still include that. If you don’t, leave it out. It is a pricy spice and not always easy to find.
The base of a tandoori chicken marinade is plain yogurt. To that you will add fresh ginger, lemon juice, and a variety of Asian spices. I use mainly Indian spices and don’t make it too hot. Feel free to change up the spice mixture depending on what you have in your pantry. Adjust the level of heat to your liking. You can marinate for as little as 1 hour, though overnight is better.
Before cooking the chicken, be sure to allow it to sit out of the refrigerator so that it can come almost to room temperature, approximately 20 minutes.
Air Fryer Tandoori Chicken Legs Recipe
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 2 TBS fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsps sesame oil
- 2 TBS minced fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- Good pinch of saffron threads, crushed
- 4 whole chicken legs with skin on
- Vegetable oil for cooking
Total time:40 min – Prep time:15 min + marinating 8 hours – Cook time:25 min – Serves:4 people
1. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, and oil. Stir in the ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, coriander, paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, and saffron. Set aside.
2. Place the chicken legs, skin side up, on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, make slits in the chicken skin and just slightly into the flesh every 1-1/2 inches, approximately 4 slits. Place the legs in a baking dish or storage container with a lid.
3. Pour the marinade all over the chicken and gently massage it into the legs until evenly coated. Cover the dish or container and place in the refrigerator for 6 to 12 hours.
4. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 20 minutes prior to cooking. Preheat the air fryer to 350°F for 5 minutes.
5. Coat the basket or crisper plate with vegetable oil. Shake off the excess marinade from 2 chicken legs. Place them, skin side down, in the basket or on the crisper plate. Cook for 10 minutes. Flip the chicken over and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F when checked with a digital meat thermometer.
6. Remove the chicken to a serving platter and place that in a low oven. Repeat with the other 2 legs.
Easy Red Lentil Dal
- 1 TBS ghee or coconut oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 TBS minced fresh ginger
- 1 TBS curry powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 3 cups stock or water
- 1-1/2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
Total time: 50 minutes – Prep time: 10 minutes – Cook time: 40 minutes – Serves: 4 to 6 people
1. In a medium soup pot over medium heat, melt the ghee or coconut oil. Add the onion and sauté until soft, approximately 6 minutes.
2. Stir in the garlic, ginger, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Continue to cook until fragrant, approximately 2 minutes.
3. Add 1 cup of the stock and stir to incorporate any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in the rest of the stock, lentils, and tomatoes. Bring to a rolling simmer. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook until creamy, approximately 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the lentils from sticking to the bottom.
4. Serve the dal with basmati rice, tandoori chicken, and raita.