For a few short centuries the Portuguese were on top of the world. They established colonies throughout Africa, India, China, South America, and from them trade routes centered around produce and spices.
The piri-piri pepper (aka African Birds Eye Pepper) came to Portugal from Mozambique and Angola. Piri-piri is Swahili for “pepper-pepper”. The Portuguese took a special liking to this pepper and its singsong name, and it quickly became an indispensable part of Southern Portuguese cuisine.
The piri-piri pepper is found in many forms throughout Portugal (hot sauces, pastes, marinades) and is used in many dishes, the most famous is frango grelhado com piri-piri or, grilled chicken with piri-piri sauce. This dish is one of my all time favorites.
The piri-piri pepper is quite hot and I like to temper the heat by roasting the peppers and garlic before blending my marinade. This brings out the natural sweetness of the peppers and lends a smokey charred flavor to the marinade. After marinating the chicken overnight, I slow cook it over low coals, caramelizing the outside skin completely. The result is an addictive spicy charred chicken that will make you glow but not put you over the spice edge.
This is a recipe I made for four people in the Algarve. It was a winner, so enjoy.
Grilled Chicken with Piri-Piri Sauce (aka Piri-Piri Chicken):
2 whole chickens, split and laid flat
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- +/-10 bird’s eye chilis (scale according to your heat preferences) preferably charred on the grill, but preserved will work
- 1 red bell pepper, charred, peeled, seeded
- 6 cloves garlic, charred and peeled
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon spanish smoked paprika
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- Split and score chickens, season lightly with salt
- Char chiles, bell pepper, and garlic on grill or stovetop
- Combine marinade ingredients in blender, puree till smooth
- Adjust seasoning with S&P
- Pour 2/3 of marinade over chicken, coat thoroughly and rub in
- Cover, marinate overnight in fridge
- Light grill with enough coal to last at least 2 hours
- Remove chicken from marinade; remove excess marinade and set aside to use as basting liquid
- Place chicken on grill skin side down. Move often to avoid burning (as coals cool you can allow chicken to sit longer between moves)
- Slowly caramelize/charr the outside (up to 2 hours or more depending on your grill — slow & low, don’t dry it out), continually baste chicken with excess marinade reserve
- When cooked, remove chicken, wrap in tinfoil, and allow to rest for 20 minutes
- Split each chicken right down the middle, and serve with the remaining 1/3 of the piri-piri sauce on the side