My Quest For Peri-fection: Your Guide To Perfect Home-made Nando’s-style Peri Bites

Perfectly crunchy and crispy Nando's style Peri-bites

Perfectly crunchy and crispy Nando’s style Peri-bites

Obsession is a dangerous thing to have and once you get something in your head, it is impossible to let go of. For me, recreating restaurant recipes at home is one such obsession and at times, it drives me to the edge of insanity.

Nando’s Peri-bites has been an OCD of mine ever since I first tried it some five years back. These are deep-fried green chilies stuffed with a succulent, cheesy chicken filling that just melts in your mouth (and sets it ablaze). A few years back, I successfully created a Peri-bites recipe that tasted much better than the original; there were two problems I consistently faced:

  • the coating kept falling off
  • the filling kept oozing out

Not all chilies were affected, though, but a sizeable percentage (around 60-70%) had one or both of these flaws. Therefore, I kept on going back to Nando’s for my Peri-bites fix – my fellow Peri-junkies should be able to relate to this. On one of my more recent visits to Nando’s, I found several issues with my appetizer:

  • lack of chicken in the filling
  • the taste was a bit ‘off’
  • the coating wasn’t as crisp as it should be

With a broken heart and a huge disappointment (that would put Mt. Everest to shame), I put my culinary skills to the test and gave the recipe one more try. This recipe that I’m about to share is an absolute 110% improvement on the Nando’s original. I promise you will not be disappointed with the results.

Prep Time: 30 mins

Serves: 3-4 people

Ingredients

  • 1 medium egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¾ tablespoon corn flour
  • ¾ tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups bread crumbs (for dry coat)
  • ½ chicken breast (1-inch strips)
  • 2 teaspoon peri-peri sauce for cooking (hot or wild flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon peri-peri sauce for mixing in
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoon grated mozzarella
  • 1 tablespoon grated cheddar
  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese
  • 8-10 green chilies (approx. 3-4 inches in length – use banana peppers for a milder flavor)
  • Canola oil (for deep-frying)

Method

  1. In a sauce pan, put a teaspoon of oil and add the chicken breast
  2. Mix in the peri-peri sauce once the chicken is tender and turn off the heat after cooking for a minute; let the chicken cool
  3. After the chicken has cooled, add in cream cheese, mayonnaise, cheddar, mozzarella, and peri-peri sauce; mix well
  4. To fill the chilies, make a T-shaped incision from the base of the chili (as shown in the picture below) and take out the seeds
  5. Take about 1-2 teaspoon of the chicken filling (make sure there are chicken chunks in each portion) and stuff it gently into the chili; do not over stuff as the incision may not close and the filling may come out during frying
  6. In a bowl, mix the egg, milk, corn flour and all-purpose flour
  7. Dip each stuffed chili into the egg mix and roll it into the bread-crumbs; repeat this step twice for each chili
  8. Put a pan with oil on medium heat for deep-frying
  9. Gently drop each chili into the oil; try not to touch them for a minute to let the coating stick to the chili
  10. Cook them for a few more minutes till the chilies are crisp and golden
  11. Serve them immediately with a peri-peri sauce of your liking!

So what are you waiting for? Get started on a batch right away; it’s sure to knock your socks off and set your head steamin’. I hope you enjoy this recipe; comments would be appreciated!

 

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The Incision – ‘T’ marks the spot

 

Piri Piri Chicken Cutlets

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Ever since I first tried Nando’s some ten years back, I have been obsessed with the global phenomenon that is peri-peri; just thinking about the tangy-spicy flavor gets my mouth watering. I have been searching far and wide for the secret behind the peri-peri sauce, the infamous ‘African Birds-eye Chilies’ (a.k.a. piri-piri), so that I can try making the sauce at home, but until I do, I’ll have to settle for some store-bought (read uber-expensive) Nando’s sauce.

Ramadan is a time to thank Allah for all the bounties he has bestowed upon us; it is also a time for specially prepared feasts and platters full of delicacies to be shared with everyone (especially those less fortunate). After not having anything to eat or drink for almost fifteen hours daily, your mind naturally tends to think about food (a lot) and you cannot help but obsess over what needs to be cooked for the iftar (breaking of the fast at sunset). While fasting a few days back, I started lusting for some peri-peri goodness and thought of trying something new using the sauce as a key ingredient. Here’s what I came up with and believe me, it turned out fantastic; easy to make, perfectly crunchy, spicy and cheesy. It’s everything you’d want in a dish to satiate your Ramadan cravings.

This recipe here serves THREE people.

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts (cut horizontally into ½-inch thick fillets)
  • 3 tbsp + 2 tbsp Nando’s Hot peri peri sauce (you can choose to go for mild)
  • 1½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cup bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 4-5 slices of cheese (alternatively, you can go for a shredded mozzarella + cheddar combo instead for that rich thready texture)
  • 3-4 cups oil (for frying)

Method 

  1. Put the chicken fillets along with THREE tablespoons of peri-peri sauce into a bowl and mix well, ensuring that each piece is coated perfectly
  2. Set it up in the refrigerator for TWO to THREE hours to marinate; this step can be reduced to half-an-hour too but two to three hours gives the best results (taste-wise)
  3. Whisk eggs and milk in a bowl to make an egg-wash
  4. Take two plates and fill one with flour (add salt and pepper as seasoning to the flour) and the other with the bread crumbs
  5. Take a piece of chicken and coat it with the flour; ensure to coat properly and remove any excess
  6. Next, dip the chicken into the egg-wash; ensure to coat properly and remove any excess
  7. Finally, take the egg-washed chicken and drop it into the crumbs; ensure to coat properly and remove any excess
  8. Repeat steps 5, 6 and 7 till all pieces have been coated properly
  9. Set it aside for FIFTEEN minutes to air-dry
  10. Here you actually have a choice: you can either (a) pan sear the chicken using a few tablespoons of olive oil or (b) deep fry it on medium heat till the chicken is tender and has a crisp-golden coat on either side – I prefer the deep-fried version
  11. As soon as you take the chicken cutlet out of the pan, add a slice of cheese (or the shredded combo) on top to allow it to melt
  12. In a separate bowl, mix two tablespoons of peri-peri sauce with cream cheese and mayonnaise to make the sauce; add some milk if you want to adjust the consistency
  13. Spread some sauce at the base of a plate and put the chicken cutlet on top
  14. Other garnish options include jalapenos, olives, spiced feta cheese, and even some tomato ketchup (if you’re really that into it)
  15. On the side, you can choose to add french fries or Peri Bites

All my Muslim readers will agree with me that coming up with something tantalizing (and different) for iftar each day is something we all fret over. Hopefully, this recipe will give you a much-needed additional option and will earn you some praise from children and adults alike. Enjoy!

Nando’s On A Peri-licious Road To Self-Discovery

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Nando’s needs no introduction. This chain of casual dining restaurants takes Portuguese cuisine to a whole new level and proudly serves the meanest flame-grilled chicken money can buy. Starting in 1987, Nando’s now operates in around 24 countries worldwide and there’s no stopping it. The secret of its success is the uniqueness of its Peri-Peri sauce which is the base for almost everything you eat at Nando’s. What is even more interesting is the fact that Nando’s is a cuisine in its own right. “So what do you want to have today? Chinese, Pakistani, Italian, or Nando’s?”. In other words, Nando’s doesn’t have any direct competitors, at least not in Pakistan, which is a huge advantage for the chain.

I have always been a fan of Nando’s and I commend them on their consistency to provide delicious food, their tastefully decorates restaurants and their witty advertising campaigns. I associate this restaurant with a lot of fond memories and a visit there is always nostalgic. Whether it is getting together with friends after ages or celebrating my wedding anniversary, Nando’s is the best place to be. The fact that I can eat with my hands without being judged doesn’t hurt either.

In an attempt to redefine itself, Nando’s has come up with a revamped menu that incorporates most of the regular favorites while adding a bunch of new items that are sure to take your heart away. I was recently invited at a Blogger’s meetup for the launch of their new menu by my friends at Food Connection Pakistan; the evening was spectacular to say the least.

The Ambiance

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I generally visit the Nando’s that is closest to my place but in this particular instance, I was invited to the Boat Basin restaurant. As I stepped in, I couldn’t help but admire the burst of colors that surrounded me. Everything from the brightly painted wall mural to the art pieces placed all over the restaurant were mesmerizing. I was greeted by a hostess who graciously took me to my table on the first floor. On my way there, I saw some more art pieces that adorned the walls and I felt like I was walking through an art gallery. What made the experience more realistic was the fact that the artists were properly credited; impressive and something worth appreciating.

The Reception

When I approached my table, I could see that my friends were already there and I was the last one in. Ali from the Nando’s team was our host on this culinary journey we were about to embark on. As I shook hands with everyone, a waiter approached me and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I requested a Portuguese Lemonade without missing a beat.

After we were all seated, Ali revealed the gorgeous new menus that Nando’s had designed. Featuring original artworks from South African artists, these menus are a sight for sore eyes. They are everything that Nando’s is (bright, bold and authentic) and brilliantly capture the essence of the restaurant.

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I told Ali how much I loved the look and feel of this restaurant to which he responded, “Yousuf. We at Nando’s think of our restaurants as museums, where people come to appreciate the creations of up and coming artists. This is our way of celebrating the local culture and the art that originates from here. We curate these pieces from diverse sources including students and community farms. This is what our identity is and this is what we have tried to portray in the new menu design too.”

Next, Ali took us through all the changes and upgrades that had gone into the menu.

“As you can see, we’ve added quite a few things to the menu. There are new entries in the Appeteasers section, namely the Roasted Veg Dip and Altogether Now. We’ve also tried catering to the Chicken Wing lovers by introducing wings as part of our main course. Since people love sharing Nando’s, we’ve added some platters ideal for a group of 2 to 6 people. We’ve incorporated some vegetarian options too, like the Veggie burger/pita sandwich and Caesar salad. To tie it all up, we’ve introduced Corn on The Cob, Fino sides, and Garlic Bread to make your meals even more memorable.”

All this food-talk was making me really hungry and I was sure it was having the same effect on the rest of the diners. What Ali said next was music to my ears.

“To give you a taste of our new offerings, I have taken the liberty of ordering everything for you.”

The Food

The buttery Corn on the cob was the very first treat of the night. As I bit into my ‘mild’ corn, I could sense a conflict between the corn’s natural sweetness (highlighted by the butter) and the spice from the peri-peri sauce, the sweet overpowering the spice by miles. Sensing the lack of heat and the fact that I always use the ‘hot’ peri-peri, I drizzled a few drops onto the corn and took another bite. What resulted was an explosion of taste that is hard to define in words and the combination couldn’t have been more intense. I enjoyed the rest of the corn and regretfully moved on to the next dish; a solid 9 out of 10 for me.

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Next came the Altogether Now platter, featuring a bowl of Olives, Hummus, and Roasted Vegetable Dip served with Pita Bread. The hummus, as always, was very tasty but the roasted veg dip failed to impress me much as it was a bit under-seasoned. A 7 out of 10 for me on this one.

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The Caesar Salad was a revelation. Featuring fresh lettuce leaves with a surprisingly refreshing Caesar dressing, croutons and Parmesan cheese, this dish managed to steal my heart. I would have liked a little more cheese but maybe that’s just me. I’d have it any day of the week and I’d rate this a solid 10 on 10.

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Then came the warm aromatic Garlic Bread with grill marks. I couldn’t help myself comparing this with my favorite garlic bread. Even though this bread was fresh and tasted great, I really missed that strong garlicky flavor that it is supposed to have. A reasonable 7 out of 10 for the Garlic Bread.

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Fino is Portuguese for ‘posh’ and this is the feeling these sides are supposed to evoke. While the Grilled Veg featured on the right side fail to deliver this feeling, the Sweet Potato Mash on the left hit the ‘posh’ out of the park. Nando’s redefines the concept of ‘mash’ by presenting these cinnamon-flavored chunks of sweet potato with a drizzle of your desired peri-peri heat. The sweetness hits you first when you pop a chunk into your mouth. As it progresses down the tongue, the sour, salty and spicy profiles of the potato hit you and it is suddenly transformed from ‘just a potato’ to a tantalizing delicacy. Just sitting here writing about it makes me want to rush to Nando’s and get a fix. Whereas the Grilled Veg was a disappointing 5, the Mash gets a 10 out of 10 from me.

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For the main course, we were offered a selection of one of their breaded options. We could either go for a wrap, a burger or a pita sandwich. As the other two options were Veg and Aubergine-Chicken (I hate Aubergines), I went for a basic grilled chicken breast fillet in a pita. My other friends ordered the same in burger or wrap form. The only exception was Ali, who went for the Aubergine version in a burger. I had ordered my main course with a side of wedges and I dove into them as soon as the platter was placed in front of me. The wedges, as always, were crisp on the outside, tantalizingly soft on the inside. The Pita, however, was a different story. For some reason, I have never found good Pita in Pakistan and the one being served at Nando’s is no exception. While the filling in the pita was outstanding, the Pita itself was thick, damp, and soggy, owing to the absorption of all the tasty juices from the filling; I wish I would have tried the wrap or the burger variant but it was too late and I was too full. I gave the pita sandwich an 8 on 10; had the pita been thin and dry, I would have gladly bumped it up to a 10.

When Ali offered dessert, we politely declined; if I say ‘No’ to the Nando’s chocolate cake, I have to be really REALLY full.

The Verdict

Restaurants willing to re-discover themselves and open to incorporate customer feedback are truly appreciated. Nando’s has done just that and I must say it is a bold and exciting initiative. Even though I miss the old hard-bound menu that had these ‘one-liners’ Nando’s is famous for, I’m impressed by what they have done to the menu. As with any change, there are a few hits and a few misses, but in this particular case, Nando’s delivers most of these with a bang.

As for the pricing, there are some items on the menu that fail to deliver value for money, for instance the Caesar Salad and the Grilled Veg, but overall, Nando’s pricing is consistent with a lot of other fine dining restaurants across Pakistan. A per-head cost comes up to around 600 to 800 PKR per person which is slightly expensive, but worth what you get in terms of taste. Everything tastes good with Peri-Peri and the sauce is a permanent entry on my grocery list. If  you want to get a taste of what Nando’s has to offer, I recommend you get some of their sauce and try making something around it. 

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Finally, I’d like to thank the entire Nando’s team for having us over and sharing this evening with us. The team was exceptional, professional and made sure we all had a great time!

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Nando’s Peri Bites

A new and improved Peri bites recipe is available on this link!

Nando’s has taken grilled chicken to a whole new level and the secret’s in their sauce. But eating at Nando’s can put a nifty dent in your pocket. Thankfully, the sauces are readily available at any good grocery store and/or hyper market.

Like my fellow bird lovers, I go to Nando’s for the best grilled chicken on the planet, but to truly whip up an appetite and to get the taste of what’s to come, you have to order the Peri Bites. These mouth-watering chilies are deep-fried with a crisp coat, and have a cheesy center with a little chunk of their famous peri-basted chicken. For those unlucky few who live in a country where Nando’s doesn’t serve these treats, here’s a pocket-friendly way to try these out within the confines of your own homes.

Ingredients

  • ½ chicken breast
  • 2 tsp peri-peri sauce (hot or wild flavor)
  • ½ tsp cooking oil
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp grated cheese (cheddar or mozzarella or one tbsp each)
  • 8-10 green chilies (approx. 3 inches in length)
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp flour
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 pinch of pepper
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (for coating)
  • 1 cup milk (for coating)
  • A piping bag with the long nozzle (thin opening) or a sterile syringe (with the needle removed)
Method
  1. Take the chicken breast and cut it into small ½ inch pieces
  2. Put cooking oil in a frying pan, add the chicken and the peri-peri sauce, and cook until the chicken is tender (approx. 80% cooked)
  3. In another sauce pan, heat the milk and add the cheese to it; when the texture is nice and smooth, let it sit till it reaches room temperature
  4. Mix in the mayonnaise to the cheese sauce and fill it up in the piping bag or syringe
  5. Using a knife, carefully make a cut perpendicular to the base of the chilies, 1 to 1.5 cm in length; remove the seeds with caution without tearing the chili surface
  6. Insert one chicken chunk into each chili followed by a small quantity of the cheese sauce using a piping bag or syringe
  7. Keep these chilies in the freezer for 1 hour
  8. Now mix the egg white in a separate bowl and pour it on top of the chilies; also mix in the flour, salt and pepper into the mix and coat all the chilies evenly
  9. Roll each chili in bread crumbs, followed by a dip in the milk and back into the bread crumbs for a nice, thick coat
  10. Once all chilies are done, put them in the freezer for another 15 minutes so that the coating can settle properly
  11. Deep fry in very hot oil until they have a nice golden coat
  12. Serve immediately with peri-peri sauce, tomato ketchup or mayonnaise

The image above shows the results I got from my first attempt and I know I did a sloppy job on the coating, but you can do better; believe me. I hope you enjoy these insane appetizers as much as I did deconstructing them.

Cheers!