Morning shows the day! At least that's what they say but maybe it did not quite apply for me. Although, I must say, it certainly did set my mood to get ready for another meal of the day. We woke up this morning to the howls of Storm Francis that was sweeping across whole of England. Dark gloomy skies, gusts of wind and rains washed out any memories of the remains of last week's summer heat. Looking out of my window, I saw the river had swollen up with the incoming tide and pelting rain. In this chaos, something in the river caught my eye. It was a tiny baby duckling who probably got separated from its mother and siblings and was crying out for them! Then suddenly, as if propelled by a huge burst of energy, the tiny duckling with its tiny legs, zoomed towards the far end, paddling frantically like a maniac and almost comical, against the tide. It was so quick; it created a long V-shaped ripple of waves behind it. For a tiny creature, I thought it was not a mean feat when you are up against strong forces of nature. Watching it zoom past in such speed and seeing it finally re-united with its family gave me such joy, I realised I was grinning from ear to ear!
Well, this happy ending and such a zest for life gave me my morning positive boost despite the gloomy weather! Back in India, monsoon would mean 'khichuri with dim bhaja' (kedgeree with omelette) for lunch and hot, spicy snack with masala chai! But I had other thoughts for our monsoon lunch. My son loves Nando's chicken with their special peri-peri sauce and I won't deny it is his parent's favourite too. I suddenly longed for the taste, however no such luck on a day like this.
Thought to myself why not try to create something similar! I had the right ingredients (5 main ingredients TBH) and with a little bit of inspiration from celebrity chef Donal, created this smoky, peppery, tangy, sweet, and not so hot sauce for this lovely, pan-fried chicken thighs. It was my milder version yet utterly scrumptious chicken dish.
Hi-fi chicken thigh
I have used chicken thigh with skin and bone on as it is easy to cook without the worry of getting a chewy or tough end product. Its soft succulent meat becomes tender and full of flavour with a crispy skin on top. I prefer the one without bones, but I didn't have those this time. So instead of deboning I went ahead with all in - skin and bones! In this recipe, the marinated chicken starts off in a hot pan, skin side down and carries on cooking at a medium low temperature for 20minutes, which gives it a nice golden crispy skin.
The gorgeous red pepper
The star of this sauce is the grilled red pepper. I used the red Romano chilli pepper, which is long, tapering, and looks like a giant chilli. These are aromatic, sweet, and fruity in taste and are also known as sweet, pointed peppers or Ramiro peppers. If you do not get these, you may use any other pepper and if you love heat, you may opt for the spicier varieties too. I prefer them over capsicum or bell peppers because of their sweet, fruity flavour with a subtle peppery smell, unlike its cousin capsicum.
Red Romano chilli peppers are excellent source of vitamin C which is an antioxidant and great for improving our body's immune. These are also a rich source of vitamin A, B6 and E, some fibre and folate which may help promote overall health and wellbeing.
Red Romano chilli peppers can be eaten raw or cooked. You can add it to your salads, roast them with your vegetables, add them to your pasta, couscous, quinoa and even in your humble omelette! These are native to the Mediterranean region where they are popularly used for stuffed pepper with stuffing made of various, meats, cheeses along with spices to make a light but filling meal.
The lovely smoky flavour comes from the char-grilled vegetables which are blended to make this smooth, silky, and smoky sauce. The chargrilled tomatoes, onions and chillies take me back to my days back home where Pa and my MIL used to make umami aloo pitika/ aloo chokha i.e. mashed potatoes. I also remember our days as students, when we were in a rented accommodation, one of my close friends who is an expert cook and was a professional chef too, lovingly prepared this potato mash wonder with chargrilled tomatoes, green chillies. Yummy... but I'll save that recipe for another day now.
This recipe is so easy and fuss free and will make a good choice on a busy weeknight yet looks so inviting it could easily be your special Sunday lunch! Here is how I did it
Prep time: 10 mins
cook time: 35mins
6-7pieces of chicken thighs(skin and bone on)
For the sauce
1large red chilli pepper
1 medium onion, cut into half
1 medium tomato, halved
3 large pods of garlic
1tsp smoked paprika
1tbsp red wine vinegar
1tsp thyme leaves (fresh or dried)
1tbsp olive oil
salt & crushed black pepper to taste
For the marination
2cloves of garlic, grated or made into paste
2tsp of dried thyme leaves ( you may use few fresh sprigs instead of dried)
1tbsp of smoked paprika powder ( not hot variety), you can used smoked kashmiri chilli powder as substitute
salt & pepper to taste
1tbsp olive oil.
Take chicken thighs in a large bowl, add the grated garlic, dried thyme, smoked paprika, salt & pepper and olive oil. Now massage chicken with the marination well, until it gets evenly coated. Leave it for 1/2 hour. Ideally the longer you marinate, better the flavours are, so if you can leave it overnight, please do so!!
Whilst the chicken is marinating, prepare the veggies. Heat a cast iron skillet on high and place the halved onions, tomatoes, garlic pods, and the red chilli peppers on it. Sprinkle olive oil and some salt and crushed pepper. Make sure your extractor hood is turned on as it will get smoky! Lower the heat and let the veggies get charred and grilled. Keep turning occasionally, preventing it from burning.
Heat another heavy bottom pan on high. Place the marinated chicken, skin side down in one layer. Once the chicken stops sizzling, lower the heat to medium low in about 2mins. Let the chicken slowly cook in this low heat for 20minutes on its skin side down. After 20 minutes, flip the chicken over and continue cooking.
Meanwhile, remove the chargrilled, pepper, onions, garlic into your blender/mixer grinder/food processor and let it cool down a bit. Add thyme leaves, red wine vinegar, paprika, olive oil, salt and crushed black pepper.
Blend the chargrilled vegetables in to a smooth silky sauce, check seasoning.
Pour the sauce in to the pan with chicken, coat the chicken well on both sides with the sauce. Cook for five more minutes till the sauce is well incorporated and gets reduced a bit.
Serve your delicious chicken thighs with smoky red chilli pepper sauce with any salad of your choice.
That's what I call a 'winner winner chicken dinner'!
So, you see, although the morning started gloomy as could be, it ended up nice and sunny – literally.