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Piri piri — also spelled peli peli or pili pili and known as “bird’s eye chili” — is a type of chile pepper that descended from South American cultivars and was transferred to Africa from Portuguese Brazil in the early 16th century. It is now cultivated and grown in the wild in Africa, and eventually the Portuguese introduced the incendiary chile to Europe and the Far East.
As such, piri piri sauce is Portuguese in origin. Recipes vary, but the sauce is commonly made with crushed chiles, citrus, oil, red bell pepper, garlic and spices. Today it is often blended and added to soups or stocks for spice or used as a marinade or basting sauce for poultry, meat and fish.
Other fresh red chile peppers that pack a fiery punch — such as cayenne, santaka, pequín or red jalapeño — are often substituted for fresh African bird’s eye chili, as it can be hard to find.
This recipe, from Smitten Kitchen, incorporates chile, garlic, bell pepper and lemon to make a lip-smacking paste to rub over spatchcocked chicken. Serve it with tomato salad and roasted Yukon gold potatoes for best measure.
Piri Piri Chicken
Ingredients serves 4
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 a large or 1 small shallot, peeled, roughly chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeded, roughly chopped
1 piri piri, bird’s eye or other small red chile pepper, chopped, plus more to taste
1/4 cup fresh parsley or cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon paprika (I used smoked, regular is fine)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Most of the finely grated zest and all of the juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for grill grates
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3 1/2 pound chicken or 3 1/4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts
In a food processor or blender, combine garlic, shallot, bell pepper, chile, 1/4 cup parsley, paprika, oregano, lemon zest and juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt and blend until as smooth as possible.
To spatchcock (remove the backbone from) your chicken: Place on a cutting board and use kitchen shears to cut along each side of the backbone, removing it and saving it for a future post of soup. Open the chicken like a book, flattening it out. Place in a large dish.
Pour about 1/3 marinade over inside of chicken, then flip and pour another 1/3 over the outside. Set aside the last 1/3 for serving. Let the chicken marinate for as long as you have to spare; 20 minutes at room temperature, or a few hours (or even a day) in the fridge.
If using chicken pieces, marinate them as well in a big dish with 2/3 of the sauce.
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Heat a grill over medium high. Oil the grill grates. Place spatchcocked chicken skin side down on grill, spoon on some of the marinade that landed in the pan, cook for about 15 minutes, until it is nicely charred underneath. Use large tongs to flip it, pour or spoon any extra marinade over the skin and cook for another 15 to 25 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into thicker parts of the bird reads 165°F. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting into pieces.
For chicken pieces, you’ll only need about 10 minutes per side, depending on size.
No grill? Roast the spatchcocked chicken at 450°F for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into thicker parts of the bird reads 165°F. Chicken pieces are usually done in 30 to 35 minutes.
Garnish with extra herbs and serve with remaining sauce on the side. See the Smitten Kitchen recipe for tomato salad and roasted potato instructions, if desired.