The use of a tandoor oven is very important in traditional North Indian cooking, and many breads and dishes were designed especially for these clay ovens. This includes many famous Punjabi and North Indian foods: paratha, naan, kulcha, roti, and other exiting breads; and tandoori lamb chops, chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, seekh kabab, tandoori prawns, reshmi kabab, and a variety of other dishes. Only a few of us these days, however, are lucky enough to have our own tandoor. This article will look at a few alternatives we can use to cook tandoori-style foods.
Tandoori food has a distinctive smoky flavour that is produced because of the clay oven’s design. Heat in a tandoor is generated from lit coals at the base of the oven (which has a similar shape to a pot-belly stove). As the food inside it cooks, its juices drop down onto these hot coals, producing deliciously flavoured smoke that is the signature of the tandoor.
Naturally, it is difficult to find an exact equivalent of a tandoor, but we have a few options. Barbecues can be pretty good, especially where cooking can be done over a grill that lets food juices run onto the burners or coals. The effect isn’t quite that of the tandoor, but the resulting flavour is a fair approximation.
You could choose a conventional oven to cook ‘tandoori’ dishes. The similarity here is that both the oven and the tandoor have an enclosed space where heat is trapped, but the former does not produce the trademark smoky flavouring of real tandoori food. This method is the best alternative for cooking tandoori breads (naan, roti, kulcha etc), when a tandoor is not available because the bread is surrounded by heat.
A grill can be used when cooking food like lamb chops or chicken tikka even though the concept of grill cooking is really the reverse of tandoori cooking. A grill does not have an enclosed space and food is heated by elements from above. Nevertheless, tasty food can still be achieved. The grill is good for quick cooking (ie when the barbecue is not an option).
Overall, the most suitable alternative to a tandoor is a coal-fueled barbecue when you wish to do some North Indian style cooking. Even so, tandoors are far easier to buy in the West lately, so if tandoori-style food regularly graces your menu, it may well be worth making the investment.