Food and drink, Piri-piri chicken

Piri-piri chicken

A dish with a link to Portugal’s great past.

Piri-piri chicken (frango assado com piri-piri) is Portugual’s most famous and most popular dish. It can be found on the menu of most Portuguese restaurants, particularly in tourist areas, and is a winning combination of being both tasty and cheap. The spatchcocked chicken is marinated in garlic, lemon juice and salt and barbecued on a charcoal grill. It is then basted with piri-piri sauce before serving. The core ingredient of piri-piri sauce is the bird’s-eye chilli which is cooked with oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt. It is strange to think that this quintessentially Portuguese dish is based on an ingredient that is not native to Portugal. The piri-piri (or bird’s eye) chilli originated in Africa and was discovered by the Portuguese when Vasco da Gama landed in Mozambique in 1498 during the era of the Discoveries; piri-piri means ‘pepper-pepper’ in Swahili. The Portuguese then went on to introduce the chilli to India when Vasco da Gama landed there later that year. Piri-piri chicken is usually served with chips and salad and a small bottle of piri-piri oil, if you like your sauce a bit spicier.

My favourite recipe for piri-piri chicken is from Tessa Kidros’ book Piri Piri Starfish: Portugal Found (Murdoch Books, 2008). She adds paprika and oregano to her marinade and port and whisky to the piri-piri basting sauce.