I made cod with a curried coconut broth the other night for dinner, and as I was rummaging around in the spice cabinet, I ran across a little packet of tandoori spice that I got from SpicesInc last October. High time to put that into action, don’t you think? So I decided to do a tandoori spin on a whole roast chicken for dinner last night, mixing a tablespoon of the spice mix into a big dollop of homemade yogurt with some pureed onion and garlic (I am out of fresh ginger or I would have added some of that as well). Since traditional tandoori recipes often call for lightly scoring the meat, I assaulted mine with a fork, poking holes all over to aid the marinade’s penetration before rubbing it all over the chicken, both over and under the skin. It soaked in the flavors for about an hour, then I roasted it slowly in a 350F oven until incredibly tender and juicy.
I knew I was going to need some sort of side dish to go with the chicken, and I decided that this would be a great opportunity to play with paneer, a fresh cheese that is made just like ricotta and drained until it has achieved a sliceable consistency. I make ricotta at home all the time, so I just went about it normally, heating whole milk gently with a good glug of homemade apple cider vinegar until the curds separated from the whey. After a few hours under weight in a strainer lined with a flour-sack towel, my paneer was firm enough to cut into cubes. Some recipes call for soaking the cheese in cold salted water to improve its texture and appearance, but I was running on a clock at this point and needed to move on, so I just fried the paneer in butter and gently stirred it into the pea pulao I had made.
Coming from someone who is not a fan of the cuisine, this Indian-inspired meal actually turned out to be very tasty. The chicken was very moist and flavorful, but not too spicy—I actually could have added more of the tandoori spice. I love what yogurt marinades do to chicken, and it was equally as fantastic on a whole roasted chicken as it is for skewers.
The pulao was chock-full of onion, peas, and paneer, lightly scented with cinnamon, bay, cardamom and cumin. I had anticipated leftovers, but my husband liked it so much that there was none left to save. As for the paneer itself, which I had never eaten before, my brain kept trying to tell me it was tofu as I was frying it (not a great association for a picky eater), but it really just tasted like dry ricotta, not especially flavorful but in no way offensive. Jeremy wants me to try making palak paneer or saag paneer sometime, as they are some of his favorites from the restaurant, so I’ll have to give that a whirl sometime soon.
Tandoori-Spiced Roast Chicken with Paneer Pulao
1/2 C full-fat yogurt, drained (I used homemade)
1-2 T tandoori spice blend
1/2 medium onion
1-2 garlic cloves
1/2″ knob of ginger, peeled (optional)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 whole chicken, 4-5 lb
1 C long-grain rice
1/2 medium onion, diced
1″ piece of cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 C water
1 C peas (frozen is fine)
1-2 green chiles, sliced (I used fermented banana pepper and threw in some minced fermented garlic)
1 C cubed paneer (recipe below)
2 T ghee or oil
Rinse the chicken, remove the giblets, and pat dry inside and out. Puree the onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor with a splash of olive oil, then add the spice blend, salt and yogurt. Loosen the skin on the chicken and smear all over with the yogurt mixture—under the skin, on top of the skin, and inside the cavity. Place in the refrigerator uncovered for an hour to marinade.
Preheat oven to 350F. Roast the prepared chicken for 1 1/2 hours or until it is golden brown and temping out properly with a thermometer, 160F in the thickest part of the leg. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes under a foil tent before carving.
While the chicken is cooking, soak the rice in 4-5 cups of water for at least half an hour; drain. Saute the onion with the spices until translucent and fragrant; add the drained rice and saute until the rice starts to look translucent. Pour in the water, cover and simmer for 15 minutes over medium low heat. Meanwhile, brown the paneer in a non-stick skillet with a tablespoon of ghee or oil. If desired, drop the cooked paneer into a bowl of cold water for a minute or two, then drain and set aside. After 15 minutes, stir the peas and paneer gently into the rice; cover and allow to warm through over low heat, then serve with the roast chicken.
1/2 gallon milk (preferably whole)
2-3 T lemon juice or vinegar
Line a colander or large strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or a flour-sack towel. If you’d like to keep the whey for another purpose, set this over a bowl to catch the whey. Otherwise, you can just set it in your sink.
In a large pan over medium heat, bring the milk to 170F. The lower the temperature, the less you have to worry about the milk scorching on the bottom of the pan, but the longer it takes to come to the right temp. When it temps out, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar. Stir until milk separates completely separates into curds and whey; you’ll know it is done separating when the liquid turns a distinctly yellowish color with white curds floating in it. This should happen at about 190F. If it doesn’t seem to be separating completely (ie: the liquid is still milky), add another tablespoon of lemon juice.
Pour the separated mixture into the cloth-lined colander. When it’s cool enough to handle, gather the corners of the cloth into a bundle and twist to squeeze out as much of the excess liquid as you can. This can be used it immediately as ricotta cheese.
To press it into a solid cheese for paneer, set the bundle in the middle of a plate with a good lip to catch the liquid that will be squeezed out. Put another plate on top and press until the bundle has flattened into a 1-inch disk. Leave the plate on and weight it down with something heavy (like a few cans of tomatoes). Press the cheese for at least 20 minutes, though an hour is ideal. Drain off the liquid that has collected and unwrap the paneer. Use or store immediately. The cheese will firm up even more in the fridge.