Now synonymous with Portugal, peri peri chicken (or piri piri chicken) is made with chillies originating from South Africa, imported to Portugal from Portuguese colonies Angola and Mozambique. The dish is available from countless Portuguese restaurants and churrasqueiras, particularly in the Algarve, but in the UK peri peri chicken is most widely associated with Nando’s, the South African multinational fast casual chain. While Nando’s peri peri sauce is widely available in UK supermarkets, this peri peri chicken recipe features a marinade that’s made from scratch, perfect for summer barbecues or easy (relatively healthy) weeknight dinners.
Piri piri or peri peri chicken?
Both terms are commonly used to describe the African Birdseye chilli, along with ‘pili pili’. In Portugal, the dish is exclusively known as piri piri chicken, but internationally it’s more commonly known as peri peri chicken, particularly in English.
Peri peri chicken cooking tips
This peri peri chicken recipe features instructions for a homemade peri peri sauce, but a shop-bought alternative can be used instead if need be.
Unfortunately, birdseye or peri peri peppers aren’t easily obtainable worldwide. Alternative chillies can be used for the sauce / marinade, but it’s worth remembering the spiciness will vary based on the type of chilli used.
If you’ve ever eaten at Nando’s, you’ll know that the spice levels of peri peri chicken can vary greatly. This recipe isn’t heavily spicy, but you can always add more or fewer chillies to suit personal tastes.
The chicken should be marinated for at least an hour, or up to 24 hours in a zip-lock bag. Marinate for no longer than 48 hours as the acids of the marinade will begin to break down the fibers of the chicken, making the meat far too soft.
Peri peri chicken is traditionally cooked on the barbecue, but can also be cooked in the oven with some slight adaptations.
For a more healthy peri peri chicken, the whole chicken can be substituted for skinless, boneless chicken thighs or breast, but note the taste will be far inferior and cooking times will vary greatly.
Leftovers can be stored for 2-3 days in the fridge, or for up to 4 months in the freezer.
How to spatchcock a chicken
Place the chicken on a chopping board, breast side down, and score along each side of the spine with a sharp knife or a pair of poultry shears (there should be little to no resistance). Remove the backbone and reserve for making stock. Flip the chicken back over so it’s breast-side up and press down until the breast bone cracks and the chicken can be flattened.
Peri Peri Chicken Recipe
- 1 large chicken preferably free range (alternatively use chicken portions)
- 2 lemons
- 6 cloves garlic peeled
- 4-6 Birdseye chillies or use alternative chillies if unavailable
- 1 tbsp oregano leaves
- ¼ tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tbsp pepper
- 100 ml olive oil
- 60 ml white port alternatively use 2tbsp red or white wine vinegar
- White pepper
Begin by spatchcocking the chicken if using a whole bird. Place the chicken on a chopping board, breast side down, and score along each side of the spine with a sharp knife or a pair of poultry shears (there should be little to no resistance). Remove the backbone and reserve for making stock. Flip the chicken back over so it’s breast-side up and press down until the breast bone cracks and the chicken can be flattened.
Season the chicken all over with salt, a pinch of white pepper and the zest and juice of one lemon. Rub all over and leave to sit while you prepare your peri peri marinade.
Add the garlic, chillies, lemon zest and juice, oregano, dried rosemary, paprika, and generous pinch of salt and white tsp white pepper to a food processor. Blend until a thick paste forms. Pour in the oil and port / vinegar and blend until fully combined.
Pour around 1/3 of the mixture over the chicken and rub all over. Leave to marinate at room temperature for at least one hour, or up to 24 hours in the fridge.
If cooking on the barbecue, place the marinated chicken on a well-oiled grill over medium heat, skin-side down, for 10-12 minutes until charred. Gently flip and baste with another 1/3 of the marinade. Close the lid and cook for 40-45 minutes, flipping once or twice and basting with the rest of the marinade, until completely cooked through. The juices should run clear and the thigh meat should reach an internal temperature of 165F if using a probe thermometer.
Leave to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
If cooking in the oven, preheat the oven to 180C / 160C fan / gas 4.
Place the chicken in the oven, skin-side up, for 45 minutes. Baste and spoon over another 1/3 of the marinade, then return to the oven for 10-15 minutes.
Pour the rest of the marinade over the chicken and place under the grill, on high, until the skin crisps. Once fully cooked, the juices should run clear and the thigh meat should reach an internal temperature of 165F if using a probe thermometer.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
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