"Just as good as KFC crispy strips," was the verdict of my teens when they tasted these spicy, crunchy chicken fillets, made by coating yoghurt-marinated breasts in dry chilli-bite-mix powder and quickly shallow-frying them. Now, I would have preferred them to say, "'Oh, our Sainted Mother, Giver of Life and Much-Valued Maker of Supper, these are way, way better than KFC!", but, face it: to a 17-year-old, nothing can taste better than a greasy bucket of the Colonel's finest factory-reared poultry product.
I had intended to use ordinary flour to coat the strips of chicken, but I'd run out, so I thought I'd experiment with Pakco Chilli-Bite Mix. This is a well-known and loved South African brand of instant batter, made from gram flour (chana or chickpea flour), spices and a little baking powder. Mixed with water, it makes a thick batter that is combined with chopped onions, chillies, coriander, spices and other flavourings and dropped, in blobs, into hot oil to make puffy 'chilli bites', which are similar to a pakoras, or to Britain's national snack, the ubiquitous onion bhaji. The wet batter can also be used to coat fish, chicken and vegetable chunks.
I'm not a big buyer of instant mixes (okay, I sometimes buy caramel instant-pudding, and and I think felafel-mix is a great stand-by) but these strips were so good - tender and garlicky on the inside; crunchy and spicy without - that from now I will always keep a packet of Pakco powder in my store cupboard.
You can buy this product from online stores peddling South African foods (such as African Hut in the US, and the SA Shop in the UK, or you could make up your own chilli-bite mix, using the dry ingredients in this recipe ( I haven't tried to make my own mix, and don't intend to - the whole point of this recipe is that it's so effortless!)
This recipe is easily halved.
Quick, Easy Chilli-Bite Chicken Strips
10 deboned, skinless chicken breasts
salt and milled black pepper
1 cup (250 ml) plain white yoghurt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
the juice of one lemon
about a cup (250 ml) of Pakco Chilli Bite Mix (see notes, above)
oil for frying
chopped fresh coriander (cilantro or dhania)
Prepare the chicken and the marinade an hour or two in advance. First, cut the breasts into thin strips of a roughly equal size: Lay the chicken breasts flat on a board. Put one hand on top of the breast and, using a sharp knife, blade held parallel to the chopping board, cut horizontally through the breast to make two 'leaves'. Cut each leaf into two or three strips.
Season the breasts with a little salt and pepper (be sparing with the salt, as the the coating powder is quite salty) and put them in a flat glass or plastic dish. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yoghurt, crushed garlic and lemon juice. Pour the marinade over the chicken strips, and toss well so that every strip is well coated. Set aside in a cool place to for a few hours (no longer than three hours, or the yoghurt will tenderise the chicken to a point of mushiness).
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C. Spread a cup or so of the chilli-bite mix onto a plate or flat dish. Heat a non-stick frying pan and add enough vegetable oil to cover the base of the pan to a depth of about one millimetre. While the oil is heating, remove the chicken strips, in batches of five or six, from the marinade (scrape off any excess marinade, if it's really thick) and roll the strips in the chilli-bite mixture, pressing down so that they are well coated on both sides. Shake off any excess powder, and place the strips in the hot oil. Fry for a minute or so, or until golden brown and crispy, and then turn and fry for another minute. Remove from the pan and drain for a minute on several layers of kitchen paper. Slide the cooked chicken strips onto a dish and place in the oven to finish cooking while you fry the remaining chicken in batches. Don't overcrowd the pan, which may cool the oil, and don't allow the oil to get too hot. If the pan accumulates dark-brown bits, wipe it out with a sheet of kitchen paper and add some fresh oil.
Serve piping hot, with fresh coriander and lemon wedges.
Serves 10 as a starter or snack; 6 as a main dish.