In a world awash in chicken restaurants, what makes Nando’s, a chain with outlets throughout the world, so different? For one thing, it had its commercial beginning in a Johannesburg mining suburb. But, its uniqueness is not that the chicken preparation is South African, because it isn’t, but that the marinade derives from a Mozambican-Portuguese recipe made with peri-peri (or piri-piri) chiles that belong to the same family as the tabasco pepper.
Although the pepper is hotter than a jalapeño, it isn’t classified as one of the world’s most blistering. Instead, it has been described as relatively tame up front, with citrusy and herbal notes, but packing a sneaky heat at the end. This might explain its huge success in the marinade that Nando’s has perfected, showcased in approximately 1,000 worldwide outlets, including (for now) American restaurants in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. It has been a big hit especially in the U.K. and Australia, which markets account for about half the total locations.
At New Zealand Nando locations, the chicken can be ordered in quarter, half or whole portions. It is marinated for 24 hours in lemon and herb or peri-peri sauce (mild, hot or extra-hot) before flame-grilling. You can additionally douse your chicken with any of the bottled (and commercially available) pepper sauces. The extra-hot peri-peri sauce packs heat and has a strongly lemony tang, almost rindy. Interestingly, the mild sauce (which is labeled ‘medium’ here in the U.S., available through Amazon) is not as mild as the less intrepid might think, and is much lighter in color.
My preferred chicken cut is dark meat, finding it more succulent and less prone to drying out than breast meat. Still, I’ve always found Nando’s breast meat juicy and tender (☆☆☆). The peri-peri marinade imparts a tangy quality and sustains a steady heat that never overpowers or blisters, even the extra-hot version.
I’d eaten at Nando’s in Christchurch three times before, without realizing until now that Max’s World Cafe’s outstanding African Portuguese Chicken closer to home (in Issaquah) is the same thing. Hands down, Max’s is superior—but much more expensive. I suspect one day that Nando’s will make its way west. In fact, there is one outlet in Vancouver, B.C.
145D Colombo Street
03 332 3207