The first food cooked in an Indian oven was flatbreads, and for me, they remain the best—especially those light buttery yeasted naans. The traditional way to make them is on walls of tandoors which are found all over northern India where bakers manually roll out dough before baking it in open-air stables.
Naan is a type of Indian flatbread that’s been stretched and baked in an oven called the tandoor. The procedure for making this delicious treat starts with soft white ball-like dough being played into shape before being cooked at high temperatures on top rack positions where it will eventually become crisp outside but still pliable inside, sweet-smelling smoke coming off its surface while giving off hints of butter when bitten into.
We don’t all have tandoors, but good results can still be had with an American-style barbecue grill. Over the years I’ve experimented and found that placing a baking stone in your grill gets me what seems like pure perfection – naan cooked directly over flames gives off very little smoke which makes for a light yet rich flavor without any gimmicks or tricks up our sleeves!
- 1 ½ to 2 hours for the dough to rise
- Set up the grill for direct grilling
- 1 envelope of active dry yeast
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup of warm water
- 1 large egg. beaten
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 4 ½ to 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting and rolling
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- Combine the yeast. 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and 1/4 cup of the warm water in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining -1 tablespoon of sugar, 3/4 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.
- Use 1 ½ teaspoon of the oil to lightly oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, and brush the top with the remaining 1 ½ 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 1 ½ 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.
- Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.
- 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.
- 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.