After the successful conclusion of Rotisserie Experiment Number 1, roast chicken, I mentioned that I would next attempt the tandoori turkey recipe provided by Paul Riddell at the Texas Triffid Ranch. It would be easier than waiting for him to return to New England with a fully smoked bird he managed to smuggle past hungry TSA agents and hyperactive sniffer dogs.
As a token of his gratitude for a bacon explosion, Paul had presented me with a bag of various spice mixes, one of which was tandoori masala. (The others are so aromatic that I have to keep then double-bagged and in a vacuum-sealed box to prevent my kitchen from smelling like a Marrakesh souq.) For the recipe I had to consult his anthology The Savage Pen of Onan, in particular the essay titled “And Now for Some Good Taste (Deliberate This Time)”. The steps I followed closely matched his, with a few notable exceptions which I will mention.
I assembled my ingredients: a fresh fourteen-pound turkey (nothing fancy, just a supermarket bird), a quart of plain yogurt (not lowfat or non-fat), two limes, and the spice mix.
Riddell emphasizes that the turkey should be partially thawed from frozen, a classic barbecue trick for keeping the bird moist during a low-and-slow smoking. Since I would be using a higher-heat indirect roasting method, I used a fresh (non-frozen) turkey.
I mixed the spice into the yogurt, added the juice from the limes, and checked for salt level. The spice mix was salt-free, so I boosted the mixture with a quarter cup of light soy sauce. If you don’t have a spice mix, substitute a jar of Patak’s Original tandoori paste and back off on the soy.
The paste is supposed to be injected under the turkey skin. My usual wide-bore injector needle wasn’t wide enough to deal with the viscosity of the paste, but She Who Must Be Obeyed suggested that I use a standard turkey baster, which worked perfectly.
I rubbed the remaining paste on the inside cavity and all over the outer skin. By the time I was done, the countertop looked like an outtake from a George Romero movie. Note the absence of the bright pink color usually associated with tandoori; it was derived from Punjabi red chile powder, but now it comes from red food coloring.
I placed the turkey in a large three-gallon zip bag along with the remaining paste, squeezed the air out, and let it sit in the fridge overnight, turning the turkey halfway through its resting time.
An hour before I wanted to start cooking the turkey – a process I estimated would take about four hours – I let it come up to room temperature. While I waited, I prepared my smoker’s rotisserie attachment and lit the charcoal. I put the turkey on the spit, tying it at the legs and wings to keep the extremities from flopping around and overcooking. I set the spit on the smoker and placed a drip pan underneath. Lastly, I basted the bird with half of the paste that remained in the bag.
I added a few chunks of hickory to the coals to develop a light smoke. At the two hour mark I basted one more time with the rest of the paste and added a few more hickory chunks. I left the cheap plastic thermometer in the turkey; removing it would have left a hole for all of the juices to drain from. After three hours and forty five minutes, I checked the temperature at the breast; it was exactly 160°F. (If you want to smoke the bird at a lower temperature – probably around 300°F – you should expect to cook it for closer to six hours.) I removed the turkey from the smoker and let it rest for twenty minutes.
While the turkey rested, I made curried cauliflower, a hybrid of two recipes from Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World. I started with a pound and a half of cauliflower ( I used a mixture of orange and white) left whole, a chopped red onion, the juice of one lime, a tablespoon of cumin seeds, a tablespoon of sweet curry powder, three tablespoons of canola oil, and a quarter cup of chopped cilantro.
I boiled the cauliflower heads in salted water until they were just tender, drained and cooled them under cold water, and separated them into florets.
I put a skillet with the oil over medium-high heat, added the curry, cumin seeds, and half of the onions, then cooked the mixture until the onions started to brown.
I added the lime juice and the florets, tossing them in the pan until they were heated through and coated with the spice mixture.
To serve, I topped the cauliflower with the cilantro and the remaining half of the onions.
While the cauliflower cooked, I performed my patented Turkey Dissection™:
I served the turkey with the cauliflower, basmati rice, and naan – the latter two left over from Indian takeout earlier in the week. I might be able to fake tandoori meat in a smoker, but I can’t cook naan on a grill.
The turkey was moist and meltingly tender, tasting of spice and smoke but not aggressively so. The curried cauliflower provided just a bit of heat to balance out the meal. I’ll definitely be making this dish again, once I use up all of the leftovers.
The leftover turkey did present me with one problem: What to do with the carcass? Normally I would dropmit into a pot of simmering water and make stock, but the flavors of this turkey had me puzzling out a possible application for a smoky, spicy, almost orange stock. While I pondered, I put the bird to the simmer:
As I watched the pot boil, I realized what I’d make with the finished product: dirty rice. But that will be another post.