Tandoori-Baked Flat Breads

Naan

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Direct Grilling Makes

    14 to 16

    Naans

Appears in

The Barbecue Bible

By Steven Raichlen

Published 1998

  • About

Flat breads were the first food cooked in a tandoor (Indian oven) and for me they remain the best—especially, the light, buttery, yeasted bread known as naan. The traditional way to cook naan is on the walls of the tandoor. Virtually every residential neighborhood in northern India has a bakery (more like an open-air stall), where barefoot bakers roll and bake naan to order.

The procedure is simple enough. When you order naan, the baker takes a soft white ball of dough and rolls it into a flat bread. A few slaps from hand to hand stretch the bread into its traditional teardrop shape. The baker presses the bread onto the wall of a hot tandoor using a pillowlike holder called a gaddi (literally throne). The gaddi protects the baker’s hand—a must when you consider that the temperature of the tandoor can reach 700°F. The bread emerges from the oven puffed and blistered on top and crisp and brown on the bottom. It’s sweet and smoky, pliable and moist, and about as delicious as bread gets.

Most of us don’t have tandoors, but good results can be obtained with an American-style barbecue grill. Over the years I’ve experimented with various techniques, including placing a baking stone in the grill. The best results come with cooking the naan directly on the grate over the flames.

Ingredients

  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4½ to 5 cups unbleached (all-purpose) flour, plus additional for dusting and rolling
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted

Method

Advance Preparation

  • to 2 hours for the dough to rise

  1. Combine the yeast, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and ¼ cup of the warm water in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar, ¾ cup of warm water, and the egg, milk, and salt. Add 4 cups of the flour and stir to form a dough that is soft and pliable, but not sticky. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic either by hand on a floured work surface, in a food processor, or in a mixer fitted with a dough hook; add more flour, if the dough is too sticky to work with. It should take 6 to 8 minutes.
  2. Use teaspoons of the oil to lightly oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, brush the top with the remaining teaspoons of oil, cover it with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1½ hours. Punch down the dough and pinch off 2-inch pieces. Roll them between your palms into smooth balls. You should have 14 to 16 balls. Place the balls on a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with a lightly dampened clean kitchen towel. Let rise again until puffy, about 30 minutes.
  3. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.
  4. When ready to cook, place a rolling pin, cutting board, bowl of flour, and the melted butter near the grill. (This is incredibly theatrical; your guests will be amazed.) Lightly flour the cutting board, then roll out a dough ball on it to form a disk about 5 inches in diameter. Gently slap the disk from one hand to the other to stretch it into an elongated 7- to 8-inch circle. (The motion is rather like the “patty cake, patty cake” motion in the nursery rhyme.) Stretch the circle into a traditional teardrop shape and immediately place it on the hot grate.
  5. Cook the naan until the bottom is crusty and browned and the top is puffed and blistered, 2 to 4 minutes. Brush the naan with butter, turn it over, and grill the other side until lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Don’t take your eyes off the grill; naan burns quickly. Prepare the remaining naan the same way. Brush each naan with more butter as it comes off the grill and serve while piping hot. Serve whole, or cut each naan into 3 wedges to serve the traditional way.