It’s easy to be superior about food. Take those jars of supermarket gloop for example. You could regard them as nasty confections of lurid colours, chemicals, preservatives, salts and gelatinous gums. Because that’s what they are. No-one can argue. Instant sanctimony! Chicken Tonight comes to mind, as does Kan-Tong fluorescent sweet and sour sauce, which resembles the kind of glue my children use to stick sections of egg carton, painted noodles and glitter onto large sheets of butcher’s paper at kindergarten. (Perhaps, by contrast, I should make pasta alfredo with Clag instead of Maggi dried alfredo powder one night. A few glasses of chardonnay beforehand and I shouldn’t even notice the difference.)
They wouldn’t make products like these if people didn’t buy them, the good angel on my right shoulder whispers. The market drives demand. But if they didn’t make it, people wouldn’t be able to buy it, replies the bad angel on my left shoulder. Begone, bad angel with your nanny state thinking! That philosophy would have the developed world squatting on its haunches grinding spices, queueing for scant foodstuffs and running to the well to fetch disease-ridden water. Like democracy, the free market is the least-worst system.
So no superior attitude. I don’t have to like gloop, but I will defend to the death anyone’s right to eat Chicken Tonight. Maybe not to the death.
This stream of barely-consciousness started when I referred to several cook books for a tandoori chicken recipe, and they all specified chicken and a jar of tandoori mixture. I could have got that off the side of a jar of Sharwood’s paste.
So I searched through my file of hand-written recipes from years ago and dragged out the following. The chicken comes out of the oven a lot paler than the lurid red commercial pastes and some restaurants produce, but I never liked the taste of additive 120 anyway. Or is it 221? The red one.
Pound six saffron threads in a mortar, stir 3 tablespoons of warm water through, leave for a few minutes, and then process with 5 garlic cloves and two inches of ginger.
Stir this into a cup and a half of yogurt along with: one teaspoon of salt; one teaspoon of black pepper; half a teaspoon each of cumin and coriander; a quarter teaspoon each of cardamom and ginger; and a small pinch each of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. (All spices ground.)
Take 2 kilograms of skinned chicken pieces on the bone, slash each piece twice and place them in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Make a mixture of 3 teaspoons of cayenne pepper, one teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of black pepper and work this into the chicken pieces. Now squeeze a lemon over it. Flavours of citrus and pepper will hit your nose and you will salivate and wish you had started earlier, because now you have to let it marinate. First, pour the yogurt mixture into the dish over the chicken and put it in the fridge for a few hours if you can stand the wait.
Pour off excess marinade and bake until done. This depends on the cuts of chicken, your oven and how pink you like your chicken. I used Maryland portions and drumsticks, and they took 40 minutes in my very hot oven on 180. (Very hot meaning it will cook something much faster than someone else’s oven on the same temperature. Don’t ask me why.)
Serve with basmati rice, sliced iceberg lettuce (with tandoor flavours, a marriage made in heaven, or India) and a salad of tomato and onion.
Option: if you leave the excess marinade in the baking dish instead of draining it off it works just as well and becomes a delicious sauce to mop up with naan, parathas, chapatis or – my favourite - fenugreek roti. What the hell - mop it up with a slice of Wonder White. It's still delicious.