One of our favorite meals during our stay in Hong Kong was tandoori chicken. What—you might think—does Hong Kong have to do with Indian food? When the British took possession of Hong Kong in 1841, they brought many Indian servants with them. After a hundred and fifty years some of these servants became entrepreneurs, some starting their own businesses and becoming quite wealth. As a result—at least 20 years ago—Hong Kong had some truly excellent Indian restaurants, tucked away is surprising corners.
Note: Our favorite restaurant was down some steps into an alley and into the side door of a tower of flats. There was sign—facing the wall of the next building at the end of the alley—but nothing at the street entrance to the alley indicate that the restaurant was there. You had to have a local lead you to it the first time to find it —talk about exclusive.
When we lived in Hong Kong, our residence was in Pokfulam—we lived in the towers on the left, the huge buildings on the right did not exist twenty years ago. Our stay was two years before the changeover and Hong Kong was still—nominally—British.
We would walk down to the market at the foot of the hill and buy raw chicken that had been seasoned and sealed in plastic—just the way that many American stores do it today. It came with fresh lemon wedges and you baked it in your own oven. A squeeze of lemon and you had the tastiest, tender chicken main dish imaginable.
For 20 years I have been trying to replicate—unsuccessfully—their recipe. This attempt is to replicate the taste, if not the form of the dish. I am marinating the ground chicken overnight and adding a tandoori sauce—it won’t be Hong Kong, but it should be good.
Note: To go with my main dish I am making a pulau rice, saag paneer and raita. This Christmas, my sister Karen sent me a jar of pear chutney—her new home has pear trees. This seemed like the perfect meal to use it. It went really well and cooled the spicyness of the meatballs.
After Dinner Note: Jan and Miriam agreed that this was close to the flavor of the original dish. The sauce was much thicker than the original, but it was all the better for that.
Karl’s Chicken Tandoori Meatballs
½ lb. chicken thighs, coarsely ground
½ lb chicken breast, coarsely ground
½ cup Greek yogurt (full fat)
¼ cup onion, grated
8 cloves garlic, crushed finely
2+ Tbs. Tandoori Masala
2 tsp. ginger, grated
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Kosher salt
½ cup fresh lemon juice
4 Tbs. panko (bread crumbs)
Karl’s Tandoori Sauce
2 Tbs. ghee (clarified butter)
1 small onion, finely diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, crushed finely
2 Tbs. Tandoori Chicken Masala
1 tsp. ginger, grated
½ tsp. black pepper
1 cup yogurt
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. cilantro, chopped
1. Combine the meat, yogurt, spice blend, garlic, ginger, pepper, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
2. Mix well and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
3. Three hours before you are ready to cook—four hours before dinner—mix the lemon juice and panko into the meat mixture.
4. Form the meat into 1½ tablespoon sized balls and roll it in the tandoori spice.
Tip: Many people make their meatballs large—2 tablespoons—I find these too hard to eat in one bite and prefer to make them smaller.
Note: Put several tablespoons of the tandoori spice on a small plate and roll the meat in the spice mix to coat.
5. Spread the balls out on a greased, lipped baking sheet.
Tip: Line the baking sheet with foil or parchment paper for easier clean up.
6. Cover the meatballs with plastic wrap and set the baking sheet in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake the meat balls.
Tip: The yogurt will have started to tenderize the chicken, the lemon juice will finish off the process. If you added the lemon juice to the meat the night before, it would break down the meat’s proteins too much and you would end up with chicken mush.
Note: The environment of the refrigerator will cause the surface of the meatballs to dry out and encourage the Millard reaction. This will give you nicely-browned and flavorful meatballs.
7. Broil the meatballs—2 inches from the element on high—for eight minutes.
8. Turn the meatballs over and broil for five minutes more, until browned and crispy on both sides.
Tip: You may need to drain the liquid that has escaped the meatballs before you turn them over. You may use this to thin the sauce or save it for a soup later.
9. Melt the ghee in a medium sauce pan and sauté the onions with the salt until soft, about five minutes.
Tip: You may start the sauce while the meat is broiling, but this may be a bit of a juggle. It is safer to wait until the meat balls are done before starting the sauce. You want your meat well browned, but not well burnt.
10. Add the garlic and continue sautéing for one minute more, until fragrant.
11. Stir in the spice blend, ginger, and pepper and heat for 30 seconds to warm the spices.
12. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the yogurt and lemon juice. Heat until warmed, but do not boil the sauce.
Tip: I have tried doing this sauce with low and non-fat yogurts, this does not work, you need the high fat content to keep the lemon juice from curdling the yogurt. The fat buffers the acids and prevents a “fluffy” broken sauce.
13. Add the meatballs to the sauce and toss to coat.
Tip: If you have made the meatballs a bit ahead, you may need to give them a few minutes in the sauce to heat through.
14. Transfer the meat and sauce to a serving dish and garnish with some cilantro.