There will be blood: City Restaurant Tandoori Chicken

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We’ll miss your music, Tom Petty

Our temporary rental is fully furnished—comfortable leather couch, stylish side chairs, dining room table, cozy bed, dishes, etc. However, there are a few things missing. There is no stove or cooktop (a refrigerator-sized wine cooler has replaced the oven), no dishwasher, no working vacuum cleaner; there are no top sheets (the landlord is Danish—”Danes don’t use top sheets”) and the kitchen is missing a few tools. There was no can opener (now in Ina Garten’s world this may not have mattered), no sieve, (how in the world do you get the lumps out?) and no vegetable peeler.


A new peeler might not spell disaster in your world, but I was blithely peeling a cucumber when I peeled the tip, with attached fingernail, off the ring finger on my left hand. Restaurant rule #2 came to mind, “Don’t bleed in the food” and I pinched what remained of the tip tightly with my thumb. Also missing in our furnished apartment were bandaids. I wrapped a kitchen towel around the offending finger and we drove quickly to Bartell’s on 6th Avenue, managing to leave only a few drops of blood on their floor. BTW, if you are going to peel off a finger tip, choose the ring finger on your left hand—aside from holding your ring on, it’s relatively useless.

This somewhat self-absorbed tale is an introduction to the larger theme of restaurant kitchen dangers. Dealing with cut fingertips, thumbs, and palms comes naturally to restaurant cooks, as does burns, scalds, and being on the receiving end of a heavy, falling, object. There are a million stories of blood in the kitchen, here are three.

1. When I started on the grill at Trumps in 1983 (there is no connection to POTUS, the name Trump had not yet been ruined), it was my first job in the controlled chaos of a trendy, high-end Los Angeles restaurant kitchen. Stratton’s was smaller, formal, and intimidating but it was ruled by kind-hearted (mostly) but tightly-wound, Dennis. Michael Roberts ran a French-influenced, strict, disciplined operation and took no prisoners, so I danced as fast as I could to keep up.

As grill chef, I was responsible for the mesquite fire under the 50 pound grill grate. Started too early, the coals faded; started too late, there were only flames and big trouble for me when service started. One night, the heat was just right but I was in the weeds: six steaks, five chicken breasts, four racks of lamb, two lobsters, and a foie gras on the grill with more orders waiting on the Remanco. One of the smoldering coals popped, sending a burning ember down the front of my coat and into my bra. I yelped, stepped back, shook out the hot cinder, and was back in action before Chef started to yell. I still have the scar and never wore a bra in the kitchen again. 

2. Andre, City Restaurant’s newest turnstile CIA intern, stood by the industrial blender while I showed him how to finish the horseradish coulis. We sautéed the shallots and mushrooms until soft and golden, glazed the pan with wine, grated the horseradish root, added and reduced the cream and were ready to smooth the whole mess into a sauce. The commercial Robot Coupe, able to turn old shoes into a creamy paste, was bolted to the counter to prevent liftoff. Andre poured the hot sauce into the jar, screwed it tightly onto the base, and waited for me to set the lid on top. At that moment, Fish Guy finally came through the back door with our seafood order. As I turned to yell at him for being late, Andre pushed the blend button, and the contents of the blender shot out of the unattached lid, covering Andre’s right side from head to toe with a hot, lumpy sheen. He blistered slightly and, I’m ashamed to say, my first words to him were, “You are going to finish your shift though, right?”
3. One of the unique details of the City Restaurant kitchen was the Indian tandoor oven. The tandoor, fired with charcoal, produced chicken, beef, lamb, and chicken skewers, and naan bread. To cook naan bread, the cook brushed clarified butter from a tall, round soup inset onto each side of the flat dough, dipped one arm into a bucket of ice water, stuck his arm down the tandoor’s round hole, and slapped the bread along the wall of the 800° oven. Needless to say, no one who worked the tandoor had any hair on their left arm. 
One night a grill cook from Spago, interested in learning about tandoor ovens, was working the line with Dennis, City’s sous chef. Neither was used to sharing the grill space, so there was bumping and jostling. Spago guy tipped the clarified butter directly into the tandoor hole—the oven erupted, shooting chicken bits, naan bread, skewers, and lumps of charcoal all the way down the line to the startled pantry cook. No one died, but there were plenty of singed eyebrows, fried bangs, and crisp beard hairs. The bar patrons, watching the live feed from the Kitchen Cam on the bar TV, cheered and hollered for more. 
City Restaurant Tandoori Chicken 
1 4-5 pound cut up roaster or individual chicken breasts and legs 
Yogurt marinade: 
Add to blender:
  • 3 T. garlic
  • 3 T. fresh ginger
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons Spice mix (cumin/cardamom/coriander mix)
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 c. yogurt 
  • Spice mix: Roast 1/4 c. cumin seeds, 1/4 c. whole cardamom seeds, and 1/4 c. coriander seeds in sauté pan over medium heat, shaking pan constantly to avoid burning. When you can see wisps of smoke coming off the spices, remove from heat, let cool and whiz in spice blender. I have at least two coffee grinders with missing parts that work perfectly as spice grinders. 

Blend until smooth. 

Tandoori chicken: 

Coat chicken pieces well with marinade and refrigerate overnight. Remove chicken from refrigerator 2-3 hours before cooking. 

Heat oven to 450 degrees. 

Remove chicken from marinade and shake off any excess marinade. Discard leftover marinade. 

Place chicken pieces on rack placed in a sheet pan or tray. Cook chicken for ten minutes, turn pieces over and cook for 5 minutes more. 

Squeeze fresh lemon juice on chicken pieces and serve with basmati rice. 

You can also grill the chicken—5-10 minutes per side.

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