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The dish that first got me interested in Indian cooking is the one named after the oven in which it’s cooked: tandoori chicken.
A tandoor is a cylindrical oven, one that was traditionally built from clay. Its design makes it multifunctional: it has a large hole at the top that allows for flatbreads, like naan, to be slipped in and baked along the interior walls, while long skewers of meat protrude from the opening like pins from a pin cushion. The oven delivers intense heat that rapidly cooks the food within, developing good browning on the outside while the interior remains tender and juicy. At home, where most of us don't have tandoors, a broiler makes for a good stand-in, especially during colder weather when a grill is a less appealing option; it delivers a similar blast of heat to whatever sits below it.
Tandoori chicken is pretty straightforward: supple pieces of dark meat are coated in masala spices and plenty of yogurt. In many ways, the yogurt is the key to the whole dish, since it helps prevent the chicken from burning, and also from drying out. For my take on the dish, I like to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs because they can be cooked until well done and still retain plenty of moisture. Even when I grill, I tend toward marinated pieces of dark meat, as the result is always more flavorful and juicy than lean chicken breast.
Since I wanted to come up with a recipe for tandoori-style chicken that was also a recipe for a complete one-pan dinner, I toast some slivered almonds in the cast iron skillet I plan on using for the chicken, to use as a garnish at the end; I then cook the chicken; after the chicken is done, I'll use the same skillet to make some couscous.
I start the entire process by marinating the chicken with yogurt and spices for at least an hour, but preferably for a few hours to give the acids in the yogurt a chance to tenderize the chicken.
Then I cook the marinated chicken until it looks like it’s been grilled to perfection. Because the chicken is sitting in a skillet, some of its juices will pool on the bottom—that's okay. You’ll leave some of that liquid in the pan to steam the couscous and rehydrate some sticky dates.
To finish, I toss the couscous, dates, half of the toasted almonds, and some chopped parsley together, then set the chunks of chicken on top. The whole thing is brightened by a big squirt of lemon juice and the addition of the remaining almonds and some more parsley, and can be served on a platter or right out of the skillet. If you serve it in the skillet, whoever is on dish duty will thank you.
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