It was with great joy that I stumbled across Nick Collins’ youtube video the other day, all about building a back garden tandoor (https://youtu.be/9lEwA7f8HIY)
I say stumbled, as there was probably something else that I was supposed to be doing…but you know how these things go: one minute it’s all “I must go and research this for a blog piece” and the next it’s “oooh, this is an interesting diversion…”
Unless you’re one of those odd people who doesn’t like or has never tried Indian food, then you’ll know that a Tandoor is a clay oven that is used to cook a variety of exciting barbecued meats and breads.
In the video, Nick shows us how to build a Tandoor and how much fun one can have cooking with it.
Now, if there’s one thing I like it’s Indian food; so after a watch of the video, a Tandoor build seemed pretty much inevitable…
I won’t go over all the ins and outs that Nick covers in his video as he covers the process so well, I’ll just show you my attempt at a build and describe my experiences (for good, or bad)
Step 1: Procure your planter/massive great pot
Eve went shopping for the pots – so, needless to say, we ended up with a substantial planter – but it was half-price, so I guess I shouldn’t moan too much…
Step 2: Cut the bottom off of one of the two pots*
(*) Right. Let’s get one thing out there: the single biggest arse-pain of this whole build is the cutting off of the flowerpot’s bottom: I only had a dremmel with a tiny cutting wheel, and it took ages.
Maybe you’ll have more joy with an angle grinder, either way it’s a right old seat-of-the-pants experience, knowing that terracotta tragedy is never more than the slightest slip away.
Step 3: Start the assembly
Note the pot stood on a ring of terracotta “pot feet” to improve the air supply and stop the vermiculite from pouring out of the holes in the bottom of the planter.
Stick the other “bottomless” pot on top of the other…
Now start to fill the gap with vermiculite (a mica-based mineral used for insulation and horticulture) you should only need a bit…unless of course you’ve got a flippin’ great planter then you’re going to find yourself shelling out for quite a lot of Vermiculite – 110 litres of it in my case.
Try your local garden centre and if you can, get the large grade stuff – otherwise it’s calls to insulating contractors or your local chimney installers.
Install a low-quality griddle to keep the air flowing to the coals
Step 4: Get bloody cooking on it!
Spark up and test with a sheek kebab. Oh god, just look at it. It was sooo good.
It takes surprisingly little charcoal – probably about a couple of handfuls) and very little time to get the temperature up to 400 or so degrees centigrade.
Now it’s built what else should we cook on it?
I have a very old and very well-thumbed book entitled “The Curry Secret”. We (that’s Eve and I) adapted their recipe for the Naan bread.
I say “we”, it was more Eve. I was too busy fooling around with terracotta and charcoal…)
150ml warmish milk
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 teaspoons dried yeast
450g plain flour
Half a teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
285ml of plain yoghurt
1 large egg (which should be beaten together with the yoghurt)
Pour the milk into a bowl and stir in the sugar and the yeast. Leave for 15 minutes until the yeast starts to “work” – i.e. it gets a bit foamy on top.
Sift the dry ingredients into a separate bowl.
Add the sifted dry ingredients into the now-frothy yeast mixture together with all of the remaining ingredients and mix into a dough.
Knead the dough for about ten minutes until it is silky and smooth. Be aware that this is quite a wet dough, so don’t fret too much if it’s a bit damper than you’re used to.
The wetter the better, as they say in bread-making (and other less-salubrious) circles…
Put the dough in an oiled bowl and put in a warm place – preferably covered with oiled cling film.
Leave the dough for an hour or so – at least until it’s doubled in size.
Knock the dough back lightly and divide up into 12 or so small balls. Roll the balls out into small disks – about five inches in size and about a quarter of an inch thick. Be sure that one side of the naan is floured and the other isn’t so much…this is to ensure stickiness to the side of the tandoor.
Cooking the Naans in the Tandoor
Admittedly this is a bit of an art – and it’s an art that I haven’t completely mastered yet. But, perseverance will soon pay off:
On a heat-proof oven glove or similar – and floured side down – stretch out the naan a little, and then reach down into the Tandoor and stick the naan onto the inside wall of the uppermost pot.
It’s a bit of a fiddle and may require you wetting the naan ever-so-slightly to make it stick.
At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that it’s also incredibly easy to burn yourself while doing this, you have been warned. A good tandoor will run at about 400c.
To get things trundling along a bit you might like to pop the bit of flowerpot bottom you cut off, back on top as a lid…
After a couple of minutes the bread will start to look ready and should smell really good.
Getting the naan out is also a bit of performance, but involves grabbing it with a pair of tongs and easing it off of the tandoor wall with a small metal scraper.
But when it’s out in one piece you’ll find it all worth while:
We found that they were excellent with Daal, Chicken Tikka and Sheek Kebabs.
This oven is going to get some serious use this year, I’m sure…