This weeknight Indian-inspired quick and easy tandoori chicken is a delicious, Whole30- and keto-friendly dinner staple at our house. Marinate in the morning and bake or air fry in the evening!
Table of Contents
- Easier and faster than take out!
- What is tandoori?
- What’s in tandoori spice blend?
- Why is tandoori chicken red?
- What chicken cut do you use?
- How long do you marinate tandoori chicken?
- How to make Tandoori Chicken
- How do you cook Tandoori Chicken in an air fryer?
- What do I serve with tandoori chicken?
- How do I save leftovers?
- Got extra tandoori masala? Make these recipes!
- More Paleo Indian-INspired recipes
- Super Easy Tandoori Chicken Recipe
Easier and faster than take out!
I LOVE Indian food but on most weeknights, I’m too impatient to wait for take out from one of my favorite Indian restaurants. As a result, I came up with a quick and easy North Indian-inspired chicken tandoori recipe that involves nothing more than whisking together a simple marinade of coconut yogurt or cream, store-bought tandoori masala blend, salt, chicken, and lemon juice and popping it in the oven! This shortcut tandoori chicken recipe is tasty, healthy, and so dang easy!
What is tandoori?
Tandoori actually refers to a type of Indian cooking that utilizes a tandoor, a super hot round clay oven. Proteins are traditionally marinated in yogurt or coconut milk whisked with an aromatic spice blend before they’re roasted in the clay oven. Like most of you, I don’t own a traditional tandoor, so I simply cook my tandoori-inspired meat and seafood in the oven, air fryer, or out on the backyard grill.
What’s in tandoori spice blend?
Tandoori spice blends (a.k.a. tandoori masala) can vary, but it usually contains garam masala (which typically consists of ground coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg), garlic, ginger, turmeric, onion, mace, cayenne pepper, and Kashmiri chili powder. Tandoori marinated meats are a hit with kids and folks who don’t like spicy food because the seasoning isn’t normally super hot, but it’s packed with flavor.
Why is tandoori chicken red?
The red color in tandoori chicken traditionally comes from Kashmiri red chilies because these chilies are used in recipes more for the red color than heat. However, many restaurants use red food coloring to get the traditional color. I don’t care if the store-bought tandoori masala doesn’t result in red homemade tandoori chicken because it’s just for aesthetics. (If you really want a red hue, you can add some extra smoked paprika or achiote to the marinade.)
What chicken cut do you use?
I love using bone-in chicken thighs, whole legs, or chicken drumsticks because they stay moist and have the most flavor. Tandoori chicken is normally cooked without the skin so the meat is in direct contact with the flavorful marinade. (Yes, you can use chicken breast, but it may dry out if you overcook it.) Also, if you have big pieces of chicken, you can slash the thickest parts with a sharp knife or kitchen shears to ensure even cooking.
How long do you marinate tandoori chicken?
You do need to plan ahead a little bit because the chicken has to marinate for at least 2 and up to a day, but the actual hands-on time is pretty minimal. In fact, this dish can be thrown together in about 10 minutes before you head off to work and it will be ready to bake when you get home.
Don’t have time to marinate the chicken? No problem! Simply cut some slashes in the meaty part of the thigh before tossing it in the marinade. This way the flavor will infuse more of the meat (even if you throw it in the oven right away) and the chicken pieces will cook a little faster, too.
- Coconut milk yogurt, coconut milk or cream, or Greek yogurt (if you tolerate dairy)
- Tandoori seasoning
- Bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt (use half the amount if you are using Morton’s brand or a fine grain salt)
- Lemon juice or lime juice
- Coconut oil, avocado oil, or ghee
- Fresh cilantro leaves (optional garnish)
- Lime wedges (optional garnish)
How to make Tandoori Chicken
In a large bowl, whisk the coconut yogurt (or coconut milk/cream), tandoori seasoning, kosher salt, and lemon juice. Add the skinless, bone-in chicken thighs…
…and make sure the chicken is well-coated with the tandoori marinade. Cover the bowl and stick it in the fridge for 2 to 24 hours to marinate.
When you’re ready to cook the tandoori chicken, heat the oven to 400°F on convection roast setting (or 425°F in a non-convection oven). Grease a stainless steel wire rack rack with your fat of choice and place it on a rimmed baking tray. Place the chicken skin-side down (even though it’s skinless) in a single layer on the greased rack.
Roast the chicken in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes…
…flipping the chicken over at the halfway point.
The chicken is done cooking when there are charred bits on top, the meat is no longer pink, and the juices run clear (or the thickest part registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer).
If desired, garnish with cilantro and serve with lime wedges!
How do you cook Tandoori Chicken in an air fryer?
Preheat the air fryer to 400°F and spray the rack with avocado oil when it comes to temperature. Place the chicken in a single layer, skin-side down, on the rack and air fry for 25 to 30 min, flipping the chicken at the halfway point. You will probably have to cook the chicken in batches, depending on the capacity of your air fryer.
What do I serve with tandoori chicken?
Traditionally, tandoori chicken is served with some steaming basmati rice, paratha, or naan. If you’re paleo, keto, low carb, or doing a Whole30, you can serve it with a Simple Cauliflower Rice, roasted vegetables, or a big green salad.
How do I save leftovers?
Leftover tandoori chicken can be kept in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. I like to dice up the leftover tandoori chicken and throw it into Asian Cauliflower Fried Rice or a simple stir-fry!
Got extra tandoori masala? Make these recipes!
More Paleo Indian-INspired recipes
Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2022)
PRINTER-FRIENDLY RECIPE CARD
Super Easy Tandoori Chicken
- 1 cup plain coconut milk yogurt or coconut cream, or full-fat coconut milk, or Greek yogurt (if you tolerate dairy)
- 2 tablespoons tandoori spice mix (no salt added)
- 1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt use half the amount if you are using Morton’s brand or a fine grain salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 4 pounds chicken thighs bone-in and skinless
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil or fat of choice
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
- 1 lime cut into wedges (optional)
- In a large bowl, whisk the coconut yogurt, tandoori masala seasoning, kosher salt, and lemon juice. Add the skinless, bone-in chicken thighs and mix well to coat with the marinade.
- Cover the bowl and stick it in the fridge for 2 to 24 hours to marinate.
- When you’re ready to bake the chicken, heat the oven to 400°F on convection roast setting (or 425°F in a non-convection oven).
- Place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Grease the rack with a paper towel dipped in melted coconut oil or fat of choice.
- Arrange the chicken in a single layer on the rack, skin-side down (even though it is skin-less!) and pop the tray in the oven for about 40 to 45 minutes, flipping the pieces skin-side up at the halfway mark.
- The chicken is done cooking when there are charred bits on top, the meat is no longer pink, and the juices run clear (or the thickest part registers 175°F on a meat thermometer).
- If desired, garnish with cilantro and serve with lime wedges!
- Preheat the air fryer to 400°F and spray the rack with avocado oil when it comes to temperature.
- Place the chicken in a single layer, skin-side down, on the rack and air fry for 25 to 30 min, flipping the chicken at the halfway point. (You will probably have to cook the chicken in batches, depending on the capacity of your air fryer.)
- The chicken is done when the meat is golden brown and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 175°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.