Naan-Disclosure Agreement

All lined up, so pretty and fine

By reading this WEB-LOG POSTING (hereafter referred to as the “post”), the RECEIVING PARTY (hereafter referred to as “you”) shall enter into an AGREEMENT (hereafter referred to as ‘an agreement’) with the DISCLOSING PARTY (hereafter referred to as ‘me’ or ‘I’); the party of the first part agrees to partake of that which the party of the second part deems particularly relevant to this post, namely the post in its entirety.  By reading this paragraph, you agree to participate in the particulars imparted by the party of the second part, and, failing that, to promptly depart.  Still with me?  Let’s party.

NAAN.  The bread of a hundred Indian suppers, that unattainable bread only made in tandoors, by cryptic, grinning breadsmiths, men and women unwilling to offer up the secrets of their clay-oven magic.  Well.  Prepare to be naanplussed, because I’m about to drop some knowledge on you: it’s not impossible to make naan at home.  Matter of fact, it’s quite easy.  We’re gonna do it in a pan over reasonably high heat, because most of the cooking that a piece of naan bread goes through is through contact with a heated surface (what is that, conduction?), rather than the convection of heated air going through the tandoor.

Most naan recipes I’ve seen in my time are yeast-risen breads.  Many of them have eggs in them.  Many have at least eight ingredients.  I have never made a recipe easier, faster, or more delicious than this one, however, which has four ingredients (flour, yogurt, salt, and baking powder), and takes about an hour, start to finish.  Naan is a leavened bread, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that needs to be leavened with yeast; that’s what the baking powder is for, and it cuts down the waiting time.  This is a quickbread, something to throw together when you decide, at 4 PM, “I’ve got a half-pound of yogurt in the fridge that expires in four days, a head of cauliflower, and a big ol’ sack of chicken thighs.  I’m gonna make some Indian food!”


Adapted from this Bon Appétit recipe from 1998 – makes 8 pieces of naan

The Setup

You will need:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1½ to 2 cups yogurt, plus more if needed

The Heist

  1. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. I like to do this with a whisk, or with my fingers.  Or a fork, I guess, if you must.To hell with flour sifters.  This isn't Martha Stewart's kitchen.  It's Alton Brown's.  What can a flour sifter do that a whisk can't?  Spread grass-seed?
  2. Plop in the yogurt, a little at a time, and mix – now, with your hands.  The whisk won’t do you any good, and neither will a fork or a wooden spoon.  Now is the time for brave and wo/manly deeds.  Now is the time for triumph.  Suck it up.  Use your hands.And not your whisk.
  3. Knead in the bowl until the dough ceases to be shredded-cloth/sofa-stuffing consistency, and becomes a smooth, elastic ball.  Add more yogurt, or more flour, as the situation merits (but not much of either).  Set the dough aside and let it sit for half an hour to 45 minutes.  The dough won’t rise (no yeast, remember), but the flour will hydrate, and that’s what you’re looking for.Knead it as much as you can first before considering additional flour or yogurt.  This is true of all dough recipes; get everything incorporated before you start making judgements about flour hydration.  Don't prejudge your hydration situation.  That's a metric that, I feel, has pretty much dominated my system of decision-making for most of my adult life.
  4. After letting the dough rest, divide it into eight pieces, flour a flat surface, and start rolling them out: first make each eighth into a ball, then flatten the ball with the heel of your palm.It helps if you have SUPERSPEED, like me.  But yeah seriously this takes about two minutes for all eight of them.
  5. Making sure each side is lightly floured, roll out the dough into flat rounds, about a quarter to an eighth of an inch in thickness.  Brush the excess flour off and set on a plate, or, if you’re feeling really finicky, between sheets of wax paper.But that level of finickiness is totally unnecessary, and, to be frank, a little off-putting.  Stop looking at me that way.
  6. Once you’ve got everything rolled out, start heating a nonstick pan (or, my favorite, cast-iron), with a little bit of oil in it, over medium-high heat.  A LITTLE BIT of oil.  Not a lot.  Story to follow. A painful, painful story.
  7. Once the oil has heated, gently lay down a round of naan, and let it cook, wiggling the pan occasionally, for five minutes per side, or until a multitude of brown Doneness Freckles™ mark both the obverse and reverse faces of the dough round.Doneness Freckles ™ is a licensed trademark of DavidCorp.  DavidCorp: "By Far,The Most Litigious of the Zaibatsu."
  8. Sometimes, the naan will get puffy!  This is okay!  Just give it a few pokes with a fork, let the steam out.

    Violet!  You're turning violet, Violet!
  9. Keep warm in a 250-degree oven, and serve with delicious things, like Madhur Jaffrey’s curried cauliflower, or these delicious Indian-style mussels (recipe to come).Awwww yeah sucka that's right.  (Apologies to Phil Redman)

On flipping naan, and impressin’ the ladies:

My sophomore year of college, I had a debilitating crush on a fellow film major; we worked on movies together late, late into the night – sometimes calling it quits at 3 or 4 in the morning.  After weeks of working with her, I finally built up the courage to ask her if I could make her dinner, at her place.  She said yes.  I was elated.

I made her an Indian feast: saag paneer, biryani, curried potatoes, and naan, as well as chocolate truffles with rum-vanilla whipped cream and sliced strawberries.  We were in the kitchen together when I was making the naan, and I decided to impress her by flipping the naan without a spatula – just tossing them in the pan like flapjacks.  I made it through three or four naan breads without incident when, finally, on the last one, I used a bit too much oil, and flipped: the bread rotated dully in the air, and came down heavily in a puddle, shooting a stream of hot fat into my face, centimeters below my left eye.  I had a little red mark there for weeks, as though I’d been shot with a bb gun.

Needless to say, I impressed the girl.  I didn’t win her heart, but we’re still very close.  You ain’t gonna make someone love you with this recipe, but you’ll win friends for life.

And, for the love of God, use a spatula, unless you’re sure there’s not too much oil in that pan.  Failing that, wear lab goggles.

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