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How to make peri peri chicken, a South African BBQ classic

Check out this recipe and make this delicious meal at home

Grilled chicken
Alexei_other / Pixabay

Peri peri chicken might be a new concept to some of you out there, so we’re here to introduce you to this South African BBQ staple that will soon have your mouth watering. Peri peri chicken is a flame-grilled chicken dish with African and Portuguese origins, and it is a smoky and spicy delight to the taste buds. A culinary staple in South Africa and Portugal, peri peri chicken has exploded in recent years, evidenced by the global popularity of the peri peri chicken chain Nando’s, which has franchises all over the globe.

What makes peri peri chicken so delicious is its central ingredient — the African bird’s-eye chili, also known as the peri peri pepper. This combination of chili and chicken was created in Angola and Mozambique when the Portuguese brought over the chili peppers. Called piri-piri in Swahili, the peppers are blended into a sauce consisting of vinegar, citrus juice, garlic, and paprika since the 15th century. It’s not clear who first created the now-iconic dish, and the subject remains hotly debated between Portuguese-Angolans and Portuguese-Mozambicans.

To make peri peri chicken, this potent sauce is rubbed liberally into chicken pieces and marinated (at least four hours for the best results). The chicken is then grilled over flaming hot coals and served with an array of side dishes.

Peri peri chicken goes global

Nando's peri peri chicken
nandosusa / Instagram

In recent years, peri peri chicken has expanded all over the world. The best example of this is Nando’s, a South African peri peri chicken chain. Opened in 1987 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nando’s has more than 1,000 locations worldwide. The spicy chicken chain is especially popular in Britain, appearing in pop culture and songs.

In America, peri peri chicken is still not relatively well known. However, there is a group of Americans that have become devout consumers of peri peri chicken — Muslim Americans. In South Africa, there’s a deep historical connection with Muslims from South Asia and other parts of Africa. The halal industry, a set of Islamic dietary laws, has expanded tremendously in South Africa — 90% of grocery products in South African groceries are now halal. The halal industry is particularly strong in poultry — most of Nando’s chicken is certified by The Islamic Council of South Africa. This halal connection means that for many Muslim Americans, peri peri chicken is a natural fit for their meal choices.

Peri peri chicken

Hot and spicy non veg starter. Peri peri chicken
Image used with permission by copyright holder

(By The Guild House)

Chef Matt Walton has 16 years of experience in the restaurant industry when he was the executive chef at The Guild House in Columbus, Ohio. This peri peri chicken recipe combines tradition with innovation. “Any cut of chicken can be used, but using the dark meat will keep it from drying out during the cooking process,” Walton said. “Using the harissa paste will add additional flavor to the sauce without added steps. Adding the shio koji in the marinade will keep the chicken moist and add tenderness to the end product.”

Ingredients

Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice and zest
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, crushed
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 red chilies (bird’s-eye or Thai), halved, stemmed, and seeded
  • 3 tablespoons shio koji (optional)

Sauce:

  • 6 ounces harissa paste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice and zest
  • 1 knob ginger, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 3-4 red chilies (bird’s-eye or Thai), stemmed and seeded
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Other:

  • 6-8 bone-in skin-on chicken lower quarters (legs and thighs)
  • 1 bunch parsley minced
  • 4 lemons, zested and juiced

Method

  1. Combine all marinade ingredients with chicken in a ziplock bag or non-reactive (glass or plastic) dish. Marinate for a minimum of four hours or up to overnight.
  2. Combine all sauce ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Preheat oven or grill to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake marinated chicken for 20-25 minutes or until an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Baste the chicken every 8-10 minutes with its own juices or leftover marinade. Remove from heat.
  4. Cover the chicken in half of the sauce.
  5. In a preheated cast-iron pan or over increased heat on the charcoal grill, caramelize the sauce on the skin of the chicken. Flip and continue to cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Remove the chicken from the heat and finish with the remaining sauce, fresh parsley, lemon juice, and zest. Serve over rice or a fresh tomato salad.

Other uses for peri peri sauce

Peri peri peppers
nandosusa / Instagram

Sure, peri peri sauce is perfect on chicken, but that’s not all that it’s good for. This amazing sauce pairs well with all sorts of food, like fish, rice, other meats, and vegetables. You could use it to spice up your breakfast by adding it to your eggs, mix it with mayonnaise to bring some life to your sandwiches, or you can drink it. Yes, we said drink it, you can spice up your next brunch with a round of Bloody Mary cocktails with a peri peri kick.

Peri peri fennel Bloody Mary with vodka-infused tomatoes

Peri peri fennel Bloody Mary with vodka-infused tomatoes
McCormick US

(By McCormick Gourmet)

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons fennel seed
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 4 small cherry tomatoes
  • 4 small pimiento-stuffed Spanish olives
  • 3 cups tomato juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon peri peri sauce

Method

  1. Heat a small skillet on medium heat, add the fennel seed, and cook and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  2. Pour the seeds out of the pan to avoid overcooking and crush them finely. Pour the crushed seeds into a small bowl with the vodka.
  3. Make a small “x” on the top of each tomato. Add to the bowl with the olives. Marinate for at least 4 hours (it can go as long as overnight).
  4. Drain the bowl and reserve the vodka mixture. Place one tomato and one olive onto each of the four cocktail skewers.
  5. Stir the tomato juice, the vodka mixture, lemon juice, and peri peri sauce into a large pitcher until well blended. Serve in ice-filled glasses with tomato and olive garnish.

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Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
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