A flame-grilled chicken with African and Portuguese origins, peri peri chicken 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.
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What makes peri peri chicken so delicious is its central ingredient — the African bird’s eye chili, 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 have been made 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.
Read more: South African Cuisine Guide
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 a thousand locations around the world. The spicy chicken chain is especially popular in Britain, appearing in pop culture and songs.
In America, peri peri chicken is still relatively rare. 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.
Chef Matt Walton has 16 years of experience in the restaurant industry and is currently 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,” said Walton. “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.”
- ¼ cup olive oil or vegetable oil
- ¼ cup lemon juice and zest
- ½ bunch cilantro
- 1 tablespoon ginger, sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, crushed
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 red chilies (Birdseye or Thai), halved, stemmed, and seeded
- Optional – 3 tablespoon shio koji
- 6 ounces harissa paste
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup lemon juice and zest
- 1 knob ginger, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ red onion
- ½ bunch cilantro
- 3-4 red chilies (Birdseye or Thai), stemmed and seeded
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6-8 bone-in skin-on chicken lower quarters (legs and thighs)
- 1 bunch parsley minced
- 4 lemons, zested and juiced
- Combine all marinade ingredients together with chicken in a ziplock bag or non-reactive (glass or plastic) dish. Let marinate for a minimum of four hours or up to overnight.
- Combine all sauce ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Preheat oven or char-grill to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake marinated chicken for 20-25 minutes or until an internal temperature of 150 F. Baste the chicken every 8-10 minutes with its own juices or leftover marinade. Remove from heat.
- Cover the chicken in half of the sauce.
- 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 F.
- Remove the chicken from heat and finish with the remaining sauce, fresh parsley and the lemon juice, and zest. Serve over rice or a fresh tomato salad.
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