Recipe: Tandoori marinade for fish or chicken

“It smells good in here.”

That’s what Keith said as he wandered by. I was leaning in, photographing spoonfuls of spices that I’d later mix with yogurt for beautiful tandoori marinade.

There was sweet, grassy coriander and bright lemon juice. Tangy yogurt and earthy garam masala. The ingredients slid together into intoxicating deliciousness – not without a bit of sass thanks to the fresh ginger and spicy garlic.

Tandoori is enjoyed from Pakistan to India … even, as we learned this week, as far as the tiny island country of Palau, way out in the Pacific.

To eat proper tandoori, you need a tandoori oven. These cylinders of shimmering heat create addicting char-grilled flavor while retaining perfect moisture.

At home you can approximate the flavor of good tandoori in your regular oven or on the grill. Try this marinade next time you bake or grill fish (and even chicken).

Your house will smell like an exotic market.

Amazing Town.


3-4 lbs fish like cod, salmon … or even chicken

Tandoori Marinade

1 cup yogurt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp paprika (for mild)
1 Tbsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne (for heat, optional)

salt, to taste


1. Gather your spices, garlic, and ginger.

2. Mix them with yogurt, lemon juice, and vegetable oil.

Some people like to use red food coloring to dye their tandoori, but the more paprika you use, the redder your tandoori marinade will be. It’s all natural and totally yummy.

3. Spread the marinade on the fish, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes-1 hour. (Chicken can be marinated in this way overnight).

Now for the fun – cook as desired either in the oven or on the grill. We grilled our salmon on a well-oiled, medium-hot grill and it still stuck a bit.

Here’s what we learned, so that you can avoid a similar issue:

  • Preheat the grill over high, then reduce heat when you add the fish.
  • Be sure to rub oil on the grates at least 10 times, until shiny black.
  • Don’t fuss with the fish – if it resists at all it isn’t ready to turn yet.
  • Start serving side down, so the pretty grill marks show better (the second side never seems to get as good of a sear).

Enjoy the subtle heat of cumin, coriander, garam masala, and paprika … oh, and those unctuous grill marks.

P.S. If you want to bake the tandoori, The Best International Recipe suggests baking at 500F on a lined baking sheet with wire rack (this way the heat gets all around the fish/chicken). You turn halfway through and top with more marinade. I haven’t played around with this, but it’s a great way to go if you’re nervous about sticking food or you’re ready to bring the kitchen back inside for the fall.

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  1. What would happen if I used a clay baker? It’s big enough for a chicken, so fish and other meats could go in it as well. It has a lid of clay and a bottom of clay. I am asking your advice, but my intuition is that it would be so fine to use for tandoori that I will do it tomorrow! But maybe not at 500 degrees since it is a small vessel and would bake well at a much lower temperature. Thanks in advance for your advice!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Hmm – that might be nice… The real trick is that it will keep a lot of moisture in so, if you don’t have the heat up very high, or if you leave too much of the marinade in with it, the meat/fish will steam/braise somewhat. Of course it would taste great, but you wouldn’t have the dried, browning effect. I do think that, with some playing around, you could come up with something really yummy. Let us know how it goes!

  2. Grill, Broil! Heat your grill/broiler for at least 10/15 minutes so as to get the heat high and leave your grill lightly oiled to heat up also. Marinate meat ideally 24 hours, fish 4 hours, if using chicken make deep slashes into the flesh so that the marinade can penetrate into the meat. I have been cooking this way for 20 years!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Sounds great, Richard!! Do you turn the meat/fish partway through cooking on the broiler?

      • Sorry Sasha, yes, turn when the charred appearance appears on the food, if marinating for 24 hours do not broil meat with too much marinade on the food, try and wipe it off, because of the long marination the inside of the meat has been flavoured. If broiled on a very hot broiler the meat stays moist.


  1. […] Marinade for Fish or Chicken [Recipe] A nod to the Indian food enjoyed in Palau – yogurt and lemon juice marinade seasoned with […]

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