Mild marinade from India keeps skinned poultry moist, flavorful

June 15, 1994|By Faye Levy | Faye Levy,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

It's common knowledge that chicken is lean as long as you discard the skin. When you wish to roast a chicken, you're faced with a dilemma. During roasting, the chicken's skin acts as a protective layer so the meat will not dry out in the oven. But when we virtuously cut the skin off the roast chicken, we also remove the seasonings, and we're left with no flavorings to enhance the meat.

A perfect solution to this predicament is found in the cuisine of India. The traditional way to cook chicken in that country is without its skin. To prevent dryness and add succulence, the chicken is first marinated. A typical marinade is the one used in tandoori chicken, which I find the best a good dish for introducing Indian cuisine to the uninitiated.

The tandoori marinade is made with yogurt for moistness and a tangy flavor. Fresh garlic and ginger lend zip to the marinade. For extra bite, some versions contain lemon juice as well. Cumin, coriander and a variety of other spices give the chicken a lovely aroma and a warm golden hue. Cayenne pepper contributes a touch of heat but you don't need much; tandoori chicken is not a fiery dish.

In restaurants, tandoori chicken is baked in a clay oven called a "tandoor," which reaches incredibly high temperatures, but it also comes out delicious when roasted in a home oven or cooked in the broiler or on the barbecue.

For the following easy version of the recipe, you'll find all the ingredients in the supermarket. The tandoori marinade can be quickly made in a food processor. Even if you don't have time to marinate the chicken overnight, it will gain flavor if it's placed in the marinade for an hour or two. The marinade is also great for moistening lean turkey breasts to be cooked on a stove-top grill.

Tasty tandoori chicken needs no sauce, although it is often served with fresh lemon wedges. Serve it with rice pilaf, which you can accent with peas and sprinkle with toasted cashews for a festive highlight. Other good accompaniments are grilled bell peppers or steamed zucchini with cilantro. Slices of fresh mango make a light, refreshing Indian-style ending to the meal.

This recipe for aromatic, golden chicken calls for thighs. If you prefer to use the leaner breasts, choose them with the bone in and roast them for 35 to 40 minutes. I like to roast onion slices in the pan for serving with the chicken. You can roast chunks of bell peppers, too.

Easy Tandoori Chicken

Makes 3 or 4 servings

1 medium onion

1 tablespoon diced, peeled fresh ginger root

3 medium garlic cloves

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon oil

1/2 cup plain nonfat or low-fat yogurt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

dash cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 chicken thighs (2 pounds)

lemon wedges

Dice 1/4 of the onion. Reserve remaining onion. Process onion, ginger root and garlic in food processor until finely chopped. Add lemon juice and oil and process to blend. Transfer to bowl. Stir in yogurt, coriander, cumin, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, peppers and salt.

Remove skin and trim excess fat from chicken thighs. Make 2 or 3 small slits in each piece so marinade will penetrate better. Place chicken in shallow dish and pour marinade over top. Turn pieces so both sides are coated. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours to overnight.

Slice remaining onion into thick slices and place in roasting pan. Place rack in pan.

Remove chicken pieces from marinade with tongs and set on rack. Roast at 400 degrees until juices run clear when meat is pierced in thickest part with thin knife, about 45 minutes. (Stir vegetables a few times to prevent burning.) If juices are pink, roast a few minutes more.

Serve with lemon wedges and roasted onion slices.

*

Pilaf tastes good even with very little oil, especially when made with aromatic basmati rice. If you use regular long-grain rice instead, there is no need to rinse it.

Adding frozen peas to the pilaf when the rice is nearly cooked is an easy way to add a vegetable to your menu.

Basmati Rice Pilaf With Peas and Cashews

Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 1/2 cups white basmati rice, rinsed and drained, or long-grain rice

3 cups boiling water

salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 cup frozen peas

8 to 12 toasted cashews or almonds

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute 3 minutes. Add rice and saute, stirring, 1 minute. Pour boiling water over rice and stir once. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover tightly and simmer, without stirring, 12 minutes. Scatter peas over top in one layer. Cover and simmer until rice and peas are tender and liquid is absorbed, 3 to 5 minutes. Fluff rice with fork. Adjust seasonings. Garnish with nuts.

Faye Levy is the author of "Faye Levy's International Chicken Cookbook," Warner Books.

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