What are Tandoor, Tandoori and Tikka?

We see the tandoor, tandoori and tikka words almost every time we look at an Indian restaurant, or takeaway, menu.

And we associate the words with red food, usually chicken.

But what exactly are they?

Well, the starting point would be to explain the tandoor. A tandoor is basically an Indian clay oven that cooks food at a very high temperature. The basic shape of a tandoor is that of an egg, with the thicker end at the bottom. There are several sizes of a tandoor with the most common in a curry restaurant being about 1 metre (3 feet) high and 3/4 metre (2 1/2 feet) in diameter at the base. There is a hole at the top that is around 30cm (1 foot) across. And there is a side hole near the bottom where charcoal is put into the tandoor. All of the tandoor is surrounded by a rectangle of fireproof insulation bricks and the gap between the tandoor and the bricks is filled with packed fibreglass wool.

So what is so special about the tandoor? Well, the charcoal is burnt and the temperature inside the tandoor reaches about 370C (700F), which is very hot. The clay is a special composite that does not split or crack when the tandoor heats up or cools down. Food is placed into the tandoor and cooks really quickly.

Typically, the food cooked in the tandoor is chicken (but could be lamb or fish), either a whole chicken or chicken pieces, which is put into the tandoor after having been placed onto metal skewers.

Food cooked in a tandoor is called tandoori (such as tandoori chicken).

And the cubes of food put onto the skewers are called tikka (a kebab is just tikka that uses meat that has been minced – ground – or beaten with spices).

But so far the really tasty part of tandoori food has not been explained.

Tandoori food is marinated in a mixture of yoghurt, spices and food colouring. The marinade tenderises the meat, gives it a great taste and gives the meat the typical red colour.

And the tandoor also gives the tandoori food its own unique taste, a bit like barbeque food but not quite.

There is also one other Indian delicacy that is cooked in the tandoor and this is naan bread. An uncooked round of naan bread is slapped onto the inside of the tandoor (near the top) and only takes a couple of minutes to cook. The bread sags a little which is what gives naan bread its distinctive teardrop shape.

Nowadays there are versions of tandoors that are made for use at home so, if you have a passion for tandoori food, you can make your own in the comfort of your own kitchen.

To recap, the tandoor is the oven, tandoori describes marinated meat that is cooked in the tandoor and tikka is the pieces of marinated meat cooked on skewers in the tandoor. It’s all about the tandoor.

Hardly anybody in the UK has a tandoor in their kitchen but this does not mean you cannot cooked tandoori food. All of the tandoori and tikka recipes on the Curry Focus website use conventional UK ovens for cooking. There is a whole recipe category for tandoori and tikka recipes on the Curry Focus website.

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