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Most Indian and Pakistani restaurants offer dishes such as tandoori chicken or tandoori lamb, or present guests with a toasted flatbread called naan. All of these dishes are created in a specialized piece of equipment called a tandoori oven, or simply a tandoor. It is essentially a very large clay pot, often standing shoulder-high above the kitchen floor. The sides of an oven curve inwards towards a centralized exhaust hole. It is akin to a traditional pizza oven used in Italian restaurants or an open pit barbecue in American grills.
A tandoori oven is designed to provide very high, dry heat. Fuel for the fire is provided by charcoal lining the bottom of the structure. In order to produce temperatures approaching 900°F (480°C), employees maintain a long vigil to keep the coals burning all the time. At such high temperatures, most foods cooked in this oven develop a very crisp outer layer without sacrificing moistness on the inside.
Foods intended for this type of preparation are usually marinated in lime or yogurt-based marinades to add flavor and moisture. Others may receive a dry spice rub, which gives tandoori dishes their distinctive red tinge. In the case of breads, the raw loaves are quickly pressed against the upper walls of the oven and peeled off by hand several minutes later. Bread can burn very quickly, so it often takes an experienced Indian cook to know when to remove it from the heat.
Meats like chicken, fish, beef, and lamb do very well in tandoori ovens. Traditionally, the meat is first skewered on a thin metal blade and inserted into the center hole of the oven. The meat remains suspended in the hottest part of the oven above the coals. After a few minutes, the superheated meat is removed and placed on a bed of Basmati or other flavorful rice. Several sauces may also be offered, including some with a yogurt, citrus, or curry base.
It can be difficult to duplicate the dry heat cooking process of this type of oven, but some backyard chefs have been able to create their own brick versions. Cooking in smaller clay pots is a popular practice in some Mexican and Central American restaurants as well. The tandoor is generally found in the northern regions of India and Pakistan, but some Turkish and Greek restaurants use a slightly modified version in their commercial kitchens.