What’s cooking today: Peri-peri chicken thighs
It’s starting to look as though anything we can cook in the oven or on the old stove can be cooked in an air fryer. And quicker. The latest to get the air fryer treatment is my recipe for peri-peri chicken wings.
Once upon a time in the Cape Winelands, in the mid Nineties, I found myself on the back of an open safari vehicle in the wild bush of Spier. The estate had formerly been one of the oldest working wine farms, and I had done a wine-tasting tour of it in 1974. By then it was already becoming the tourist spot it is today.
Also on board that shaky khaki jalopy was the billionaire Dick Enthoven. During the inevitable chat that transpires between random people in such remote circumstances, he told me something I’ve never forgotten.
Nando’s was already well established by then, but only in South Africa. It had started in Rosettenville in 1987 but most of us had embraced it as a cool option for a spicy takeaway.
But here’s what I took away from that: Enthoven took a deep breath, a reticent smile playing on his lips, and said, “We’re about to open a branch of Nando’s in London.”
By the time we were living in Chichester, West Sussex, between 2002 and 2006, Nando’s was everywhere. There are now 465 branches of Nando’s throughout the UK. Enthoven should be one of our national heroes for making South African-Portuguese pride global. There are more than 1,200 branches in 30 countries. Nando’s has conquered.
Not everyone believes this. A colleague swung around on me in the newspaper office one day when I told her that Nando’s was a South African business. “It’s not!” she admonished. “It’s Portuguese!” And rolled her eyes with the kind of sigh a patient mother emits when Johnny claims not to have been at the biscuit tin again.
Also on supermarket shelves in a host of countries are the now famous bottled Nando’s peri-peri sauces of various strengths and styles. Nando’s is all-pervasive.
But. And yes, it’s a big one. But, even though it’s so easy to grab a bottle off the store’s shelf to take home for your “homemade” peri-peri chicken, you can do better, by making your own peri-peri sauce.
There are a thousand ways of making it, and my own way involves first roasting peppers with onion, garlic and chillies, and using that as the base of a sauce which is then finished with lemon juice and white wine.
Read more in Daly Maverick: What’s cooking today: Peri-peri chicken sosaties
And those two stages are, for me, the key to a fine, stinking hot peri-peri sauce. As for the strength of the chilli heat, that is entirely in your own hands. I have previously made it with 10 chillies. This time I used only six, and it was staggeringly hot. But hey, two will do if you’re one of those who can’t take the heat. (And who are already baulking at the thought of as many as two chillies going into it.) Here’s some logical advice: just choose another sauce. Peri-peri is not designed for anyone squeamish about heat on the palate. It’s supposed to be hot.
So. I’ve cooked peri-peri chicken on the braai, in a pan, and in the oven.
But now I can add the air fryer to the list, and I really put it to work, first roasting the vegetables for me, then air frying the chicken thighs.
The joy of doing them in an air fryer? Time. And it cooks through to the bone perfectly.
(Serves 4 if allowing two thighs per portion)
2 large red bell peppers
6 or more chillies (okay, or less)
1 red onion, quartered
A head of garlic, top end sliced off (less if you’re squeamish about garlic too)
Olive oil to coat the peppers, onion, chillies and garlic
8 chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry
Salt and black pepper
More olive oil, generously
Lemon juice, generously
White wine, about 2 glasses (one first, the other later)
Preheat the air fryer to 180℃.
Pour a little olive oil into a bowl, add the peppers, quartered onion, garlic and chillies, and toss them around to coat with the oil.
Place them in the air fryer basket and cook, on grill or on air fry, for about 16 minutes. Leave them to cool until you can handle them.
Once cool enough to handle, chop up the onion, chillies, garlic (sans their husks) and peppers and put everything in a saucepan on the hob. Pour in a healthy glug or three of olive oil. Boil fairly rapidly for about 3 minutes, then add lemon juice and white wine and cook gently for three minutes or so more. Be fairly generous, I don’t measure these elements; best just to add what seems right. Trust yourself. Season with salt and black pepper and leave to cool in the pot. This is your peri-peri sauce, good to go.
Dip each thigh into the sauce to coat them on all sides. This should take up about half of the sauce. The rest is for serving.
To the remaining sauce in that little saucepan on the stove, add more lemon juice and white wine, bring to a boil, cook for two minutes, and leave to cool again.
Set your air fryer to 190℃ and cook the thighs for 15 minutes.
Turn the thighs after 8 minutes of that cooking time, and continue cooking for the remaining 7 minutes.
At the end, give them another 3 minutes of air frying, skin side up, to get more browning on the skin.
Either toss the thighs in the sauce, or serve with the (reheated) sauce napped alongside them. Rice is a sensible accompaniment, given the heat of that sauce. DM
Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido. Order his book, foodSTUFF, here
Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.
This dish is photographed on a plate by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.