Chicken Tikka Kebabs

I love chicken tikka. I mean, I really, really love chicken tikka. I love the bold but complex flavors, I love the juicy succulent meat from a yogurt marinade, and I love how easy it is to make at home. Traditionally, chicken tikka is made in a tandoor, which is an incredibly hot clay oven where long thick metal skewers threaded with delectable marinated meat and other items are lowered through a hole at the top and get beautifully charred from the hot coals and radiant heat. The bread Naan is cooked in mere minutes after being flung against the hot clay walls. Mike has promised me that next year we will build a tandoor in our back yard, and I’ve been enthusiastically reading up on how and scratching my head about where to get some of the more esoteric building supplies. However, in the mean time, chicken tikka is still glorious when cooked on a barbecue and that will be the recommended way to do it today.

For the last three and a half years I lived in an awful tenement house style apartment building where city bylaws prevented me from having even a meagre hibachi on the balcony, so there was no barbecuing for me…..but that’s no reason to deny oneself the pleasure of chicken tikka now, is it?! No, it’s not. So for people who don’t have a barbecue but also love flavor, you should know that it CAN be done in an oven (on the upper rack, preheated to 450 and you turn the meat every 5 minutes) or an indoor electric grill like a George Foreman. Authentic it is not, and you don’t get the crispy and delicious charring on the outside, but it will be fabulous just the same.

So, without further ado, I present you with a recipe for abominably tasty chicken tikka.

Chicken Tikka Kebabs

Preparation time: 20 minutes prep + overnight marinate + 15 minutes BBQ

Serves 4 rather generously

Chicken Tikka

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 6-8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 cup of yoghurt
  • fresh ginger, appx 1″
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 limes, zest of 1 and juice of both
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 dried chili peppers (your choice of variety, but only moderately hot because this is here for flavor)
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • fresh cilantro, 1 – 2 tbsp chopped or 1/4 bunch
  • salt and pepper to taste
Ooh, this is an absolutely delightful cast of characters!!  If you would like, you can also add in:
  • 1 tsp garam masala
Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  Really, there is no great need for this.  More importantly, we’re moving soon and many of my spices are packed so I had to make do with what I had, and frankly I don’t notice a difference in taste.
For skewers:
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow or orange pepper
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1/2 red onion
  • cherry tomatoes
By the way, did you notice that the ginger looked like a little man?  IT TOTALLY DID!!  It wasn’t the best piece in the grocery store, and it was way more than I needed, but IT LOOKED LIKE A LITTLE MAN….a headless little man…..a decapitated ginger voodoo doll…..okay, now I’m going to feel creepy when he gets drawn and quartered.  Back to the recipe.
First you want to toast the coriander seeds.  Wow, does toasting your spices ever make a difference!  It’s like night and day how much flavor is released, and you will be so pleased with the results, so please take the 5 minutes it takes to do this first.  In a small skillet toast the coriander seeds over a medium flame until they are fragrant and you can hear them start to snap, crackle and pop ever so sightly….
Let’s talk about the dried chili for a minute. The red pepper flakes are for heat, and the dried chili is really just to give it flavor and nuance.  That said, you work with what you have.  If you can only find fresh chili, use these and mince them as finely as possible.  If you have rather spicy dried chili, maybe you want to cut down on the red pepper flakes?  It’s up to you, but chicken tikka has so many variations and configurations that you can really do as you please and brand your recipe as having your personal touch.  Anyway, back to the chili – chop it up while your coriander seeds are toasting.
Throw the coriander seeds and chili into a mortar and pestle and let your frustrations be released.  POUND THE CRAP OUT OF THEM, they like it.  You can stop whenever you feel that the experience has been cathartic, and you’re ready to go on to the next step.  Into the mortar goes 1 tsp of cumin powder.
Ooh, now it’s my favourite part.  Time to get out the rasp.  If someone walks into the kitchen as you’re holding a rasp, it is actually obligatory and necessary that you speak to them like you are a snake who smoked two packs a day in a past life.  Oh, or you’re in training to do voiceovers for a sex line.  Rasp, rasp away!  If you don’t have a rasp (seriously, what’s UP with that?  Go get one.  You’ll love it.  You want it.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say you NEED it!!  Oh yeah, thank me later) use the small holes of a grater.  Rasp in the zest of 1 lime, and try to avoid getting the white pith and focus on the green.
Rasp in 3 large cloves of garlic, or 4 medium sized ones.
Break off a chunk of ginger about 1 inch long.  How do you peel ginger?  Do you use a knife?  That’s cool, but I use a spoon.  It’s super fast and you don’t waste as much.  Then, GUESS WHAT?!  Rasp it in.
After your ginger, lime zest and garlic are in the mortar and pestle, give them a quick mush together.
In a medium to large bowl, scoop in your yoghurt.  Then you take the zested lime, in all of it’s naked glory, and juice that in there too.  Juice the other lime, while you’re at it.
Mix your spice mixture into the yoghurt.
The chicken is going to be skewered, so you want to make sure that it is all roughly the same size to cook evenly.  Try to cut it into 1 – 1.5 inch chunks.  This is much easier to do with the breast than the thighs, which is why I piled all of my well cut breast meat on top for this picture.  Yup, I’m sneaky like that.  While you’re at it, if you see any gross veins or fatty sections you want to cut that out.  Nobody likes biting into veins.  I’m not that squeamish, but jeez, that’s gross and I just shuddered a bit.  
Throw the chicken into the yoghurt marinade.
Finely chop about 1/4 bunch of cilantro, or roughly 1 – 2 tbsp.  This goes in the bowl, and give it a quick stir.  I didn’t show you this process because….well…..I’ll be honest, my cilantro was on it’s last legs.  That’s also why I put it in the back for the intro picture.  It was leftover from the guacamole and now it was starting to look the worse for wear, so you just get the final photo.
Now you’re ready for your marinating chicken to go in the fridge!  Forget about it overnight, and tomorrow when you get home the acid in the yogurt will have broken down the fibers of the chicken one by one, the spices will have penetrated straight through the meat, and the lime will have started to denature the protein just enough that all of that luscious juiciness will be trapped inside when you throw it on the bar-B.  Don’t forget to soak your skewers if you are using wood and not metal!
At this point I should mention that if you get chicken tikka in a restaurant it is not served on veggie laden skewers.  I acknowledge that fact.  I veggify the skewers for two (2) reasons:
1) It is healthier this way
2) Meat is expensive, and kebabs always stretch your meat dollar while providing a filling and flavorful meal to your guests who really don’t care if they’re getting grilled chicken breasts or kebabs.
That said, if you choose to just use meat and say SCREW THE VEGGIES, I totally understand.  And…I’ll be honest.  It’s awesome.  Just chicken is A-OK by me.  However, if you want to continue following the recipe and stretch your meat dollar, chop up the peppers into cubes about 1 – 1.5 inches big.  Chop up the onion into wedges of a similar size, and separate the layers.  Thread a tomato, peppers, onions, a few chunks of meat, and so forth onto the skewers.   Keep on going until it’s all done.  
Sadly, you should probably throw out the rest of the marinade that the chicken was sitting in.  
Cook these on a rather hot barbecue for about 10 minutes, depending on thickness.  
Serve with slices of lime for garnish, and enjoy!!!!
Okay, one more, just incase you need more incentive because you’re still nervous about Indian food (PS:  DON’T BE).
Music to cook to:  Lebanese Blond by Thievery Corporation***
***Note:  I may be half Lebanese and half Finn/Swede, but that has NO BEARING on this song selection!  Jeez, do you have to poke the bear?!
  • Tara

    I made this last night. It was delicious, but A LOT of work. I think maybe I’d save this recipe to make when I’m trying to impress someone, rather than just cause it’s Monday.

  • Tina

    Hi Tara,
    If you like the flavour but the spice roasting, grinding, and overnight marinating is too much work, why don’t you try this short cut?
    – Buy ginger puree and garlic puree (or a garlic-ginger puree which is sold at a lot of ethnic food stores) and use about 1 tbsp of each.
    – Add in ground coriander, cumin, 1.5 tbsp paprika instead of the chilis, the pepper flakes, 1 tbsp dried cilantro, and salt and pepper. This will be quite a thick paste, so add just enough olive oil so that you can stir it like a dressing. It will only take about 5 minutes to do.
    – Coat all of your chicken with this and let it sit for about 1/2 hour before cooking them.
    – When they are done, squeeze fresh lime juice on to them.

    The flavour won’t be exactly the same but it’s pretty close. The texture won’t be quite as tender without the yoghurt marinade, but it will still be delicious. It’s hard to find time during the week, so why don’t you try that short cut and let me know what you think?

  • Tara

    I will definitly give that a try! I’ll let you know what happens!

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