Monday, June 6, 2011

The Tandoor Project


Okay, I've gotta say one thing right up front here: I stole this idea, and the execution of it (nearly down to the detail), from Alton Brown. This is not my tandoor project, but rather my attempt to recreate Alton's tandoor project...

Alton Brown is, it's no exaggeration to say, the patron saint of my kitchen. I've learned as much from Good Eats as I've learned from any cookbook, any cooking class, or any nitpicky deconstruction of any meal or any menu I've ever encountered. The man is, simply, a gift to people such as myself who like to cook and want to work out how to do it better, more effectively and more creatively. I can't really compare him to the likes of Julia Child, Auguste Escoffier, Thomas Keller, et al, as he's not a chef per se (pun intended). I do, however, consider him to be in roughly the same league as Harold McGee, Shirley Corriher and Michael Ruhlman. A bit less academic than McGee and Corriher, and a bit less cultivated than Ruhlman, he shakes out as more or less the Bill Nye of food, i.e. very solid technique, with just enough whimsy to keep it interesting. Unfortunately, Alton Brown recently brought Good Eats to its conclusion, after fourteen seasons. I was really hoping his show would go on forever, but like all good things, it had its beginning, its middle, and now its end. Still, two hundred and forty some odd episodes leaves us with an awful lot of material to sift through. Thank you for your efforts, Alton, I am forever indebted.

So, because this Alton's thing and not mine, I'm not going to get into the details of what I did. If you're curious about that, you'll have to refer to his Curry episode, which can be found on YouTube, first half here, second half here. I will give you a pictorial run-through of the project, though:

First, I grabbed myself a large unglazed terra cotta flower pot. This one's 17.5" across at the top...


And then turned it over and drew a line 1 inch down from the bottom.


I took the bottom off with a hacksaw (you'll want a masonry blade for that hacksaw, btw, which doesn't look like a blade at all, but rather like a thick metal string embedded with bits of carbide; yes, you could use an angle grinder like Brown did on the show, but Brown is Cornelius Van Moneybags and I'm not, so I used a hacksaw)...


Hang onto that bottom section, btw. You can put it in the bottom of your oven to even out the temperature, or even use it as a baking stone...


I then soaked the pot in water for about 18 hours, let it dry for two, and set it on the bottom grate of my Weber grill. The standard 22 inch Weber kettle is perfect for this, btw. The Bottom grate is almost exactly the same diameter as the pot I used...


Next, I fired up some charcoal in a couple of chimney starters. I like lump charcoal for its lack of binders and other weird chemicals. It's a good idea for this project, btw, to have two of these, as you'll need a lot of charcoal to achieve the insane temperatures that characterize a tandoor (don't worry, the Weber can handle it).


I dumped a total of five chimneys' worth of charcoal into the pot, two at a time. This is about four or five pounds of charcoal. It got pretty hot, but I probably could've used a couple extra chimneys' worth...


Next, I made my friends wait around for dinner...


Then I made them wait around some more (Risa, by this time, had decided she wasn't hungry, and headed upstairs; everyone else stayed put)...


Despite the 18 hours of soaking, the pot cracked nonetheless. This is probably not such a bad thing, actually. In the future, the crack will allow it to expand as necessary (the crack closed up, btw, once this was all over and the pot cooled down). Sure, some heat will be lost through the crack, but a little extra charcoal will make up for that. As long as the thing stays in one piece, it should work just fine.


Here we see the first round of skewers, half of them lamb, the other half chicken (thigh meat), cooking away. These don't take long to cook, btw. Five minutes, tops, before they begin to char. The cooking time will become longer as the coals begin to die out (lump charcoal burns much faster than briquettes, so for extended lump grilling projects, you'll need to add more as time goes on)...


And here's an admittedly unflattering shot of the final product, over rice, with a very simple (and very tasty) tikka masala sauce...


While the cooking technique itself is interesting, even more interesting, by far, was the tikka masala sauce. I've thrown together a lot of curries over the past few years, including Saag Aloo Murghi and an Indo-Fijian curry famous among night shift workers at OHSU, as well as numerous improvisations, both successful and not so successful, and this one is up there with the best of them. Refer to the second YouTube clip for the tikka sauce. Definitely worth it for that alone.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

All I can say is WOW!

Gary Law said...

I made mine today. I used a big pot like you have, then two smaller pots. I cut the base off one small pot, placed them on top of each other with the rims facing, to create a chamber. I then filled the outer section of the large pot with about 20l of vermiculite. It works brilliant. No cracks and temps over 450*celcius. :)