The unique flavours and aromas of Indian food are based on the liberal use and inventive combinations of an assortment of mouth-watering spices. From the warming tones of cinnamon to the fresh zing of coriander, pinches of these colourful and pungent ingredients added to main dishes, desserts and even drinks balance and bring out plenty of different flavours – it is no wonder that India is known as the spice capital of the world.
Marinating is a cooking technique that makes good use of these spices, allowing the flavour to develop and absorb into all manner of meats, seafood, cheeses and even vegetables. When the time comes to cook your key ingredients, the marinade will have done its work, resulting in a deeper and fuller taste of the exotic.
One of the most popular marinades on the Indian menu is used to great effect in the northern states of India. Tandoori chicken is a particular favourite in the Punjab – chicken pieces are slathered in a marinade of yoghurt, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper, ginger, smoked paprika, minced garlic and chilli, along with a squeeze of lemon juice and seasoned with black pepper. Blended together, this mixture becomes a thick, smooth paste which clings to the meat effectively and the chicken is baked in the hot clay oven known as the tandoor.
When marinating the chicken pieces, a top tip is to pop everything into a zip-lock bag and knead until all the meat is coated. Squeeze out all the air, store in the fridge and soak the chicken overnight so the spices and flavours can sink into the meat, ready to bake or pop on the BBQ.
Vegetarians should not have to miss out on the marinating fun – after all, a large proportion of the population in India follow a vegetarian diet. However, marinating vegetables needs a little caution as if they are left to soak for too much time, it can cause them to lose vital nutrients and fade in colour.
Try creating a marinade out of ground cumin seeds, tomato juice, cilantro, chillies, vinegar, ginger, sugar, garlic and mustard. Blend and strain into a large, shallow tray before threading an assortment of vegetables onto skewers. Cherry tomatoes, courgettes, onion and peppers work well but for a little more substance, boil up potatoes or squash until they are just tender to add to the mix. Chunks of paneer also make an excellent addition.
Drop your skewers into the marinade, cover with cling-film and leave for at least 3 hours. Cook on a medium hot grill until tender and a little bit charred.
Spicing up lamb or beef with an Indian marinade will do wonders for tenderising the meat. A spicy vindaloo inspired marinade involves ground cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, mustard, white wine vinegar and a sprinkling of chilli flakes. A good measurement is half a cup of marinade for roughly 500g of meat.
Of course, if you want to see how the professionals marinate their meals, why not close up your home kitchen for the night and head on out to one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants. Amaya’s open kitchen showcases the classic Indian cooking techniques of the tandoor, the sigri and the tawa – techniques which go hand in hand with marinating to produce supremely flavoursome food.