We had the opportunity to meet the lovely Paula Costa of venerable The Dragons Kitchen food blog earlier this month when she and partner Peter Minaki (Mr. Kalofagas – Greek Food & Beyond) visited Ottawa. Minaki came to demo Greek cuisine at The Ottawa Travel and Vacation Show, which was held at the Convention Centre (55 Colonel By Drive). His Excellency, Ambassador of Greece, Eleftherios Anghelopoulo attended.
Now, Costa (@DragonsKitchen) and Minaki’s (@kalofagas) debating the supremacy of Portuguese and Greek food on Twitter is legendary. Having followed them for years, it was nice to put faces to the friendly online jibes.
The subject of piri piri came up as we all sat down to coffee and treats at Planet Coffee (24 York Street). Costa, who perfected an “only selected family will ever get to learn the secret” recipe, is an expert.
[Note: Costa posted a piri piri-esque shrimp recipe in 2011]
Last week, the seemingly dual-cultural style of chile-seasoned flame-grilled food that has roots in Mozambican and Portuguese cuisines came up again when Nando’s was listed as a fast food chain New York City “needs.” New York City shouldn’t really be want for anything food-wise.
Even the National Capital Region has its ethnic West-African piri piri chicken purveyors.
YKO Chicken BBQ
For instance, there is YKO Chicken BBQ in Vanier (375 McArthur Avenue), a wood-charcoal grill establishment with a lineage. Moussa Coulibaly originally opened YKO’s precursor, tiny Yre’s on Charlotte Street, just off Rideau St. Yre’s signature bright green and orange walls and white door happened to showcase the colours of the national flag for the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. Sadly, fans lost their Sandy Hill takeout when the building was sold and then torn down. Coulibaly closed up shop May 2010. Then, he returned to the Ivory Coast. His wife, Sita Sanogo Coulibaly opened YKO in a non-descript strip mall later that year. Only, she equipped her retail-spaced-turned-chicken-takeout with a larger grill. YKO continues where Yre’s left off, serving spice-marinated spatch-cocked chicken, cooked-to-order over glowing embers. Paired with steamed cassava, rice, or fried plantains, you’ve a hearty and inexpensive meal.
Toronto’s indie churrasqueiras (loosely translated: charcoal grill joints) actively compete with one another, jockeying for best piri piri chicken in the city.
But, there is something to be said about Nando’s, a cultural phenomenon that seems to have supplanted even neighbourhood pubs in London, England.
During our layover last December (2013), we noticed how popular the casual dining eateries have become, especially during dinner hour. While pubs and gastro-pubs filled slowly, Nando’s on Earls Court Road (248, W.8) was slammed instantly after opening. Everyone partook of the ritual: choosing what to order; deciding “how spicy you want it”; lining up at the service counter; placing an order and paying; receiving a table-number-on-a-stick; choosing finishing sauces or dressings; returning to your table; and waiting for a server to deliver your order.
Nando’s was founded in 1987 when Robert Brozin and Fernando Duarte bought “Chickenland,” a Johannesburg piri piri restaurant for reportedly £25,000. Renaming the restaurant “Nando’s” after Portuguese national Duarte, they grew the restaurant into a 1000-outlet chain with locations in 30 countries.
The first two British locations opened in London in 1992. With 29 London locations as of last year and 288 across the United Kingdom, controversy has arisen about Nando’s commitment to ethically-reared poultry. With £419.5 million in sales of fresh “not frozen” whole birds, quarters, wings, breasts and livers for 2012, Britons are asking about farming practices.
And, Ottawa has its own Nando’s too; two locations, in fact (1461 Merivale Road and 3838 Innes Road).
The menu is a little different here: no “chicken butterfly” main option; no sweet potato mash side; and more sharing platter options. However, at its core, the Merivale location is still Nando’s, a budget-friendly alternative to deep-fried or “broasted” (pressure-deep-fried) chicken.
[Is there such thing as ethnic retro-chic bistro decor?]
[While the chicken is never frozen, I think they are brined. I’ve never been served a dry portion despite each one facing very high heat on the grill.]
Piri piri is actually an African chile pepper varietal that now grows both wild and domesticated around the world. The sauce (and marinade) employing the crushed chiles, citrus (and/or vinegar), onion, garlic, pepper, salt, bay, paprika, basil, and oregano is Portuguese in origin. “Piri piri” is the name that was adopted by several African languages likely due to Portuguese colonization.
Nando’s “Peri-Peri” Sauces
Nando’s Canada has been tasked with
addict…I mean expos-ing Canadians to its international line of piri piri sauces, which can be used as marinades, glazes, or table-side condiments.
[I noticed in London, some “blokes”-in-the-know turned their noses up to the bottled sauces and flirted with counter staff for some of the sauce used to mop chicken on the grill.]
Quite frankly, during the start of the Huy Fong vs. Irwindale sriracha manufacturing debacle, which seems to have escalated of late, it was Nando’s sauces I reached for in lieu of bland ketchup. I rather enjoy the acidic heat that comes in a number of flavours: eXtra hot, hot, medium (well…hot), and garlic (Jenn’s favourite).
The wrinkle, at $4.49/125 mL at Metro and $4.29/125 mL at Loblaws Superstore, I would prefer not using these sauces as marinades. Besides, there are better ways to get flavours into chicken. So, I looked to the Indian butter chicken tradition and yogurt-based marinades.
Here is how I brought Nando’s home one evening.
Roasted Parsnip Chips
What You’ll Need:
- 1 lb (454 g) of parsnips, peeled and cut into long wedges
- salted water for boiling
- oil for coating
- 1 tbsp truffle pesto (optional)
- Preheat an oven to 400 F.
- Boil the parsnip wedges in water for 5 minutes.
- Then, drain the wedges.
- While hot, coat the wedges in a drizzle of oil and pesto (if using).
- Lay out in a single layer on a parchment lined tray or on a well seasoned cast-iron skillet.
- Roast for 40 minutes, turning the wedges over after 20 minutes.
- Serve hot.
Yogurt Marinated Piri Piri-esque Chicken
What You’ll Need:
- 1 lb (454 g) of chicken legs (can be skinless)
- Yogurt Marinade
- 2 x 175 mL containers of plain yogurt
- 4 tbsp lemon juice (approximately the juice of one lemon)
- 2 tbsp cayenne pepper (or chili powder)
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 7 whole dried peppers
- Nando’s “Peri-Peri” sauce
- Blitz the marinade ingredients in a blender.
- Place the chicken legs into a metal or glass bowl and cover in the yogurt mixture.
- Marinate 1 hour or overnight (overnight is best)
- Preheat an oven to 350F.
- Wipe off the marinade and arrange the chicken legs on a grill set over a tray.
- Roast the legs for an hour or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165 F.
- Remove the legs from the oven and let cool.
- Coat in Nando’s Peri-Peri sauce and broil to re-heat.
- Serve hot.
I can’t wait to try this take on Nando’s chicken on the gas grill; maybe with a smoke box and some smoldering apple wood chips.
1461 Merivale Road