Tandoori Turkey Fingers with Masala Ketchup

Apologies for the absence, but after the end of another unholy week I think I’m ready to re-enter the blogosphere again!  I trust that in my absence Mike was keeping you warm from the inside out with posts about our three favorite things:  alcohol, booze and hooch.  However, man can’t live on vodka alone forever (believe me, we’ve tried) so I figure a bit of sustenance is in order after this not-so-dry spell.

Several months ago I was lucky enough to have four of my closest friends in from out of town.  We had stopped by the grocery store to pick up supplies at the end of a very busy Saturday.  However, as I dawdled through the produce aisle I couldn’t help but notice that I was standing alone, and the others had dispersed in the general area of frozen goods.  Huh.  Ally looked up hopefully with a box of coconut shrimp in her hand and Nanco possessively clutched frozen President’s Choice Tandoori Chicken Breast Fillets.  I was hesitant at first, because I tend to be a bit of a snob when it comes to pre-fab foods (despite how delicious and convenient they can be, particulary from P.C.), and it makes me feel like I’m lacking as a hostess if I serve them.  But if that’s what the girls want, then frozen foods they shall have!

I will admit that, as always, I was pleasantly surprised.  The fingers were gently spicy and incredibly flavorful; crunchy on the outside but with moist and juicy meat.  I grudgingly allowed that they were good (dang good), and that I would consider buying them again.  Of course, as soon as they left I decided that I could totally make them better at home. Ergo, this is the Choosy Beggars version of PC Tandoori Chicken Fingers.

Quick and easy convenience food they are not, what with the marinade and breading process, but these fingers are delicious, nutritious and affordable all the same.  Oh yes, and I’ve used turkey, although boneless skinless chicken breasts would be delightful.  I have no particular preference for turkey, other than the fact that BL/SL chicken was selling for $8 per pack of 2, and the turkey breast was only $11 for over a kilogram of meat. Sometimes my purchase power is dictated less by my master plans and more by the lowest ticket price.

One final note – if the ingredient list looks slightly too daunting and you’re a 6 ingredients or less kind of person, you can make a few easy substitutions.  For example, if you had to omit the ground coriander in the marinade it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  In the breading, regular Madras curry powder can substitute for the garam masala, turmeric, mustard powder, coriander, and so on. A blend of curry powder with red chili powder, garlic and onion powder will still be delicious if your spice cabinet is looking rather sparse.  I’ve always been a believer that sometimes you have to make do and try your best with what you have.

Tandoori Turkey Fingers with Masala Ketchup

Serves 4

Turkey & Marinade

  • 1-1.5 kg turkey breast *
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1″ hunk ginger
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 black pepper
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk


  • 1.25 cups breadcrumbs
  • 1.5 tbsp red chili powder
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1.5 tsp garlic powder **
  • 1.5 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp onion powder **
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • salt and pepper

Masala Ketchup

  • 1/4 cup dried tamarind + 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 heaping tsp cumin seed
  • 1 can (5.5 oz) tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 ” knob ginger
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce ***
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp extra hot chili sauce, such as sriracha
  • 1 lime

* It can be difficult to find boneless skinless turkey breast so I buy the affordable bone-in breast and remove the bone and skin myself.  If you use a boneless breast it will be a bit lighter, closer to 1 kg (less than 2.5 lbs).

** If you don’t have onion and garlic powder and only have onion and garlic salt, be sure to reduce the additional salt that you add to the breading when you season it and consider omitting salt and pepper from the flour.

*** Okay, so fish sauce isn’t really an ingredient which is frequently (or ever) used in Indian cuisine, but c’mon.  We’re making turkey fingers, for god’s sake.  Tradition isn’t really playing much of a role.  More importantly, the fish sauce will add a salty depth of flavor to the dipping sauce.

Start by peeling off the skin of your turkey breast.  Remove and discard the bone.  Cut the breast into fillets, each about 1.5 – 2 ounces.  Lay each fillet flat and pound it out to an even thickness of about 1/3″ thick.

Give the onions a rough chop and slice the garlic rather thinly.  Slice the ginger root into thin quarter sized coins and smash/bruise them with the flat part of your knife.

Sprinkle the turkey cutlets with cumin, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Put the turkey into a freezer bag or large shallow baking dish and add the onions and garlic.  Pour the buttermilk over top.  Let this sit and marinate at room temperature for an hour or in the fridge for up to four hours.  Shake the bag from time to time (or move the turkey around in the dish) so that the flavors will be well distributed.

While the turkey marinates you can prepare the Masala Ketchup (directions follow at the end of the turkey fingers).

Preheat your oven to 400ºF in preparation for the turkey fingers.

In a shallow bowl combine the breadcrumbs, sugar, and all of the spices.  Season fairly liberally with salt and pepper unless you used onion or garlic salt in the spice blend, in which case you would want to have a lighter hand with the seasoning.

In a second bowl season the flour with salt and pepper.  In a third bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk.  There you have it, we’re now ready to bread!  The breading process is delightfully easy, but I’m a photo hound and just can’t help myself from showing you each step, just in case.

Step 1: Start by lifting a turkey cutlet out of the marinade and scraping off any onion or garlic bits that are stuck to it.  Coat the sticky and moist cutlet in flour.

Step 2: Shake off any excess flour and dip the turkey into the egg mixture, turning it and being sure that the whole cutlet is well coated.

Step 3:  Shake off any dripping egg and lay the turkey in the breadcrumbs, turning it over and pressing down lightly to make sure that the crumbs adhere and form a uniform coating without any gaps or bare patches.  And that’s it!  The turkey cutlet is breaded.  Repeat this process with the remaining cutlets until all are coated.

Place the breaded turkey fingers on a sheet pan which has been lightly oiled or use a non-stick spray.  Try to leave some room between the fingers, even if it’s only a little bit, because if the fingers are touching they will stick together  and the breading will be gummy.

Bake the turkey fingers for 12-15 minutes.  When they’re done the breading should be slightly puffed out in places and the cutlets will be firm and springy to the touch.  You could also cut one of the fingers in half to make sure that there is no pink remaining, which is personally the way that I prefer to do it because you couldn’t possibly serve a half cut turkey finger, so it’s practically an obligation to eat it as quickly as possible before plating up the rest.

The buttermilk and onion marinade keeps the turkey remarkably juicy and moist, but you still want to be sure not to overcook the fingers because turkey goes from diabolically delicious to dead and dry in only a few minutes.

The Masala Ketchup is easy to make but takes some time to simmer so you may want to make it in advance or while the turkey marinates.

Start by putting the dried tamarind in a bowl (about 3-4 large pods) and cover with very hot water.

After 20 minutes the water will have cooled and the tamarind should be soft and hydrated.  Work the tamarind with your fingers until it gets pulpy, removing any seeds or tough stringy bits from the bowl so that you have a thin sauce.

Put the cumi seeds into a small pot and toast them over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the seeds are popping and fragrant.  Take the pot off the heat and add in the tomato paste, very finely minced ginger (I use a rasp or microplane grater), finely minced or pressed garlic, and minced green chilis.

Put the pot on medium heat and let it cook for 5 minutes until the tomato paste has mellowed down easy and the garlic is aromatic.  Pour in the vinegars and let this come to a light bubble to temper some of the harsh acidity.  Add the tamarind, sugar, fish sauce and chili sauce.  Turn the heat down to low and let this simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes to let the flavors blend.  Keep a lid on the pot as it simmers to keep all the moisture inside, and stir from time to time so that the sugars don’t cause it to scorch or burn on the bottom.

When the ketchup is homogeneous and looking, well, ketchupy, take it off the heat and stir in the juice of your whole lime.  Let the ketchup cool completely.

Serve the turkey fingers on a platter with a big bowl of the spicy Masala Ketchup on the side for dipping.

There’s something about breaded fingers and dipping sauce which always makes me feel like a kid again. You know, a fat kid who reads too many books and needs to be physically separated from her french fries.  But hey, at least we have the benefit of baked and not fried here, and you can DIP, DIP, DIP AWAY to your heart’s content without worrying about how many cryptic chemicals are going to be pumping through your blood.

We dined on our tandoori turkey fingers with a side of garlicky ginger snap peas sauteed in mustard oil and roasted honey and garam masala sweet potatoes.  It was damn fine for family food.

Take that, Galen Weston Jr. I still totally have a crush on you, of course (I’m a sucker for a man in a sweater vest) and your Memories of Kashmir sauce is the cat’s arse, but I think I totally win on the South East Asian breaded poultry front.

  • http://www.journeykitchen.blogspot.com Umme Kulsum

    Hey Tina,

    Welcome back! Those look fabulous. I love anything tandori. and I love your spice too. Dan
    so organized . But we I can never have such small cute container for basic indian spices
    because they will have to be refilled every other day !
    I thought you are not using Sriracha this year 😀 but I won’t blame you its so damn good. it
    suprises me that you Lebanese Canadian girl likes spicy food. My lebanese colleague won’t even taste Indian food because of the spice.

  • http://www.journeykitchen.blogspot.com Umme Kulsum

    I love your spice RAck too **

  • Alison

    So my mouth is actually watering now! I’m drooling like a cat high on lots of scratching. My new kitchen to-buy tool is a meat pounder, thing. This is what I am making Friday night. Thank you!!!!

  • http://www.erikorganic.com/dining-room/kitchen-tables.shtml kitchen table

    My mouth is now watering! I like it! I am thankful that you shared it with us! I would love to try this!

  • http://www.eatingclubvancouver.com _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    Oh, my eyes were starting to glaze over with the list of all those spices. 😉 And, you are right! It looks labor-intensive! So not in keeping with our lack of industry kind of lifestyle.

    Another and — I love PC! Must be those Galen commercials. Teehee. Looking at their products (food and non-food) makes me happy, although I don’t really buy them (coz they’re, you know, “pre-made’!).

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Umme Kulsum – Ha! My spice rack is many things, but ‘organized’ isn’t one of them! You just can’t see the pile of random baggies and jars that are spilling out of the cupboard above my sink 🙂

    Alison – If you do make these, please let us know what you think! I bought this meat pounder about 10 years ago (when I was in Uni) from a dollar store. It’s really not great, but it gets the job done. Other substitutes that I have used in a pinch are (embarassing but true): a hammer and a wide piece of wood, a rolling pin (surprisingly effective), and an unwrapped pillar candle. I have no pride. I *almost* used a wine bottle once, but thankfully I had the presence of mind to reject that as a REALLY BAD IDEA.

    Kitchentable – aw, shucks. Thank you 🙂

    TS – Ha! I promise you it’s not hard at, just a lot of ingredients! I’m on the same page as you with the PC foods. I always like them, they ALWAYS look delicious, and yet they rarely make it home wiht me 🙂

  • Mohit Kumar

    Thanks for the recipe – instead of putting it in an oven i put it actually on the grill of my authentic tandoor oven. Came out excellent – maybe a little different from putting it in an oven but friends and folks loved it.

    Got my authentic gas fired tandoor oven from http://www.hometandoor.com

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Mohit – thank you kindly for the comment. We’re so glad that you enjoyed this recipe and what a need idea to do it in the tandoor! I’m glad that it turned out well. By the way, you know that I am *dying* for a tandoor, right? Because this comment has officially reignited my campaign to build a tandoor in the back yard. Mike will thank you later.

  • Mohit

    The hometandoor people sell clay pots too that can be used to make a tandoori oven for your backyard. You can talk to them and they might guide you too. I got the complete product in stainless steel with authentic clay pot inside – the authentic clay plays a very vital role especially in the outcome of naan breads.

    I cannot get the shape right but the taste is just too good. Will have to make them tommorw again as writing a comment here at this hour has switched on my craving for a beautifully done naan bread with tandoori fish.

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