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Admitted chicken junkie talks food ‘magic’

Dare I address the immaculate veal stock that we made in class on Monday and Tuesday?  The stock had the viscosity of light olive oil and a flavor unrivaled by any you’ve ever had.  We are no magicians, nor are we any better than anyone else; we just practice the skills that were handed down to us that we now pass on to those who come after – a critical part of the chef’s code.
As I consider my options, I smell a random preparation of chili peppers and I’m immediately transported to a chain restaurant in Annapolis, Nando’s.  This fine establishment of chicken, chicken and more chicken is host to its Portuguese-African specialty.  Known throughout the UK and South Africa, Nando’s is finally on our shores and I can only hope that we get one down on our Shore some day soon.
As I write this, I am compelled to confess that I adore chicken.  I am a chicken junkie.  There is something about the stuff that makes me not care in the least about foie gras or dry-aged beef.  In fact, the Peri-peri chicken has become one of my all-time favorites.  The tart and spicy marinade on top of the char of the grill and the smoke of a plank all combine to make an exquisite meal, and one that is just as good – if not better – on day two.
As it goes with many international cuisines, Peri-peri (the name of a chili) chicken became a ubiquitous dish as the Portuguese settlers, merchants and slave traders melded their cooking traditions with those of the locals on the big continent.  This amalgamation lent itself to a cuisine that celebrates the uniqueness of each culture while bringing them together in a magical and unified way.
Now, don’t go to Nando’s expecting a world-class meal.  It is a fast-food casual dining spot in the same genre as Chipotle or other fresh, quality-driven chains.  But, it is worth stopping in and checking out, and make sure that you try the mashed peas with your peri-peri.  
We ate there about six months ago, and one of my favorite parts was the self-service hot sauce table, where there was plenty of selection in sauces, from mild to melt-your-face-off hot.  For me though, I have never understood the latter and quite frankly don’t care enough about badges of honor to burn out my esophagus by ingesting the insanely hot sauces.  I’ll just stick with the mild and medium sauces.
But then I again catch myself having a Brian Williams moment, stretching the truth a touch to fit my mood.  I like spicy food if it makes sense – an authentic Indian curry or Pad Thai.  If the spice matches the flavor, and all of the flavor is not lost, then it’s a winner.
To make peri-peri chicken at home, I went to the store and picked up most everything from the produce section.  And the freshness will show in the finished dish.  Don’t use garlic powder; use the real deal.  The freshness of the dish will pop when you serve it with rice and mashed peas.  Six months later, I can still recall the smells and tastes of that fated chicken.
Another part of the recipe that is important is the cedar plank; not necessary but I like using them.  Soak the planks in water for a few hours to overnight and use on top of the grill.  The soaking prevents the planks from going immediately up in flames.  The corners will burn a bit and the smoky flavors from the plank will only further enhance the smoke from your grill.  All in all, I’d call that a match to be reckoned with.
I look forward to my next trip through Annapolis so I can stop at Nando’s but until then, I will have to make my own.  I can live with that, because as I said, I love chicken.  And this marinade will make it a favorite of yours as well.
Peri-Peri Chicken
Enough for 4 people
1- 3lb. chicken
Peri-peri marinade (recipe follows)
Cedar planks
Peri-Peri Marinade
10 ea. red chilies, medium heat
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 shallot, peeled
Juice of 2 lemons
2 Tbsp. Sugar (optional)
1/2 c Olive oil
1/2 c. Good red wine vinegar
1 bunch scallions minced
1/2 bunch Italian parsley
Salt & Pepper to taste

Remove stems from the chilies but leave the seeds in if you want more heat.  That’s what I did, and seeing as how it is a medium-heat chili pepper there wasn’t any problem.
Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree.
In a bowl, coat the chicken well with the marinade and place in refrigerator.  Allow to marinade for at least six hours or overnight.
Soak the planks in water for at least two hours so that they don’t burn up immediately upon being placed on the grill.
When you are ready to cook, heat the grill and place the chicken on the planks, evenly spaced.
Plank-roast the chicken on the grill, ensuring that the wood never catches on fire.  If this means that you move the plank around to a cooler spot, then so be it.
When the chicken hits an internal temperature of 165F, the skin should be smoky, crispy and absolutely delicious.