Grilled Piri Piri Chicken – crispy and moist with an addictive garlicky and spicy sauce.
Have you ever dated someone that you always enjoyed their company but never really committed to? Well this pretty much explains my relationship with Piri Piri. I’ve had it on many occasions, and it’s always been an enjoyable experience, but unlike jerk, I’ve never been all in with it. By all in I mean having multiple bottles of both homemade and commercially made ones at varying levels of heat intensities. For comparison Jerk gets more run than ketchup in my house whereas Piri Piri has been more like BBQ sauce; there are some I like, but buy or make on an as needed basis.
Piri Piri sauce originated from African and Portugese cultures. It’s grounded in the native African Birds-eye chili, and different versions are popular in Portugal and African countries like Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa. It’s serious business in South Africa where passions run deep like BBQ in Texas. Portugese colonizers imported the chiles back to Portugal which is home to more of a milder chili oil vs. the spicy blended sauce prevalent in African countries.
One of my goals for 2018 was to be more committed to piri piri in the form of developing a go to piri piri chicken recipe as well as a base sauce with a few different variations. So far I’m off to a good start. At the beginning of the year during a trip to Porto, Portugal for my birthday I had a chance to explore some of the best Portugese piri piri chicken options. My favorite was at a small, quant spot called Casa Vasco near the coast. It’s a spot frequented by locals so you know its good, but make sure to make a reservation if you’re headed that way. Their piri piri chicken is near perfect. The skin is extra crispy and when you bite into the juicy flesh explodes in your mouth. The chicken is well seasoned with a dry mix and it’s served with a spicy chili oil. Though I’m a big fan of this grilled piri piri chicken style, the recipe in this post is more in the African tradition. The chicken is basted in a spicy sauce. I went for high heat profile, so I left all seeds in, but feel free to remove the seeds if you prefer a milder version.
So about the sauce though…
I created a Piri Piri sauce that is spicy, tangy, and garlicky. My starting point was my favorite Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. If you’ve made the recipe before, you’ll notice some of the similarities. I adopted it to feature the bird’s-eye chiles and paused up the tanginess. I’m a garlic dude and since I went high heat, I chose to skew the sauce high on the garlic scale to balance against the heat, but feel free to dial it down if that’s not your thing. Bird’s-eye chilis are hot, but not habanero hot, so you don’t get that burn right up front. The heat comes on the back end so you can actually enjoy the flavor of the chicken. It’s also easy to balance things out to get a full flavored sauce that is also light and fresh. These latter qualities are achieved through the lemon juice and fresh herbs.
Meal Planning Tips
- Have wet wipes on hand or prepare bowls of lemon water to remove the stains from your fingers, cause there will be stains
- Make the marinade ahead of time and give flavors time to come together
Though I altered the flavor profile vs. Casa Vasco’s Piri Piri Chicken I did mimic a few of their key techniques and highly recommend you do so as well to achieve that critical crispy exterior with tender flesh. Do the following:
- Use a small bird. The smaller the better. I used a Cornish hen. I find it easier to cook the entire bird evenly. Plus there is just more flavor
- Spatchcock (butterfly) the chicken
- Season the chicken below the skin with dry rub
- Cook the chicken skin side down for part of the process topped with a brick or heavy cast iron skillet. Besides getting excellent grill marks, this helps with that crispy skin.
- As usual, let the bird rest for at least 5 minutes after cooking before diving in.
- Adjust heat levels for the sauce per your preference. Fewer seeds, the milder the sauce.
- Most red chiles are good substitutes for the African Bird’s-eye chiles. I actually brought a bunch of dried ones back from my trip and re-hydrated them for my sauce.
The piri piri chicken journey so far has been fun, with only a few bumps. Early attempts saw me lose the heat battle as evidenced by the profuse sweating from my forehead. Not sure if this was aided by my receding hairline, but it couldn’t have helped. Even worse though during my late night sessions I either didn’t use gloves when handling the peppers or failed to wash my hands fully afterwards which is a bad thing when it’s 2:00 in the morning and you have sleepy eyes. Macing yourself with hot pepper juice is a hard lesson, trust me!
Grilled Piri Piri Chicken
If you make this Grilled Piri Piri Chicken please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them. You can also keep up with my food exploits as well as original recipes! You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Dope beats, fresh eats, best life. Enjoy this addictive Grilled Piri Piri chicken during the summer grilling season.
Grilled Piri Piri Chicken
- 1 baby chicken or Cornish hen
- 1 tbsp smoked sweet paprika
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 tablespoon ground garlic
- 2 tablespoons ground piri piri spice or chili powder
- 2 large red bell peppers charred on stovetop
- 1/2 medium red onion charred
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika
- 8 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup of dried bird’s-eye chiles or substitute fresh small red Thai chilis 8-10 or red jalapeños (3-4) roughly chopped (seeds removed if milder sauce preferred)
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 cup red onion chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 basil leaves chopped
Make the Dry Rub
Mix dry spices in a mixing bowl
Loosen the skin on the chicken thighs and breasts then work your fingers below the skin to apply the spice rub mix.
Make the marinade
Rehydrate dried chilies (if using) in small pot of boiling water on the stove for 20 minutes.
Char bell peppers and red onion over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop bell peppers
Place all ingredients into a blender jar.
Blend for 30-60 seconds on high speed, until completely smooth.
Grill the Chicken
Preheat grill to 425F for indirect high heat grilling
Butterfly chicken using kitchen shears to remove the backbone: Rinse inside and out, removing innards if present. Pat dry. Place on a cutting board, breast down. Save the backbone for homemade stock later. Turn the chicken over, and placing your hand on the breast bone, press down hard with the palm of your hand, to flatten.
Brush all sides and crevasses of the chicken with the marinade, coating fairly heavily. (Reserve a cup for basting later)
Place chicken, skin side up on the grill. Close the grill and cook for 25 minutes. Turn/rotate the chicken 180 degrees to give the other half of the chicken equal time near the heat and cook for another 25 minutes.
Brush the skin side of the chicken with reserved marinade then flip so chicken is skin side down. Top with brick or heavy cast iron skillet. Remove brick/skillet and turn chicken over after 2-3 minutes. Skin should be charred. Internal temperature of thigh should be 180 degrees.
Remove chicken when done and let rest 5-10 minutes before serving. Feel free to give chicken an extra basting.