Skip to main content

Chicken Piri Piri: A taste of Portugal in your own backyard


(C) The Part Time Chef

Throughout southern Portugal, casual restaurants specializing in "piri-piri chicken" can be found in nearly every town.  The story behind the dish is a bit muddled, but the general consensus is that colonists from former Portuguese colony Mozambique brought back the fiery African birdseye chilis, commonly referred to as "piri-piri," and taught their countrymen to use them as a base for a simple marinade and basting sauce for grilled chicken.

As is so often the case with chili-based preparations, the complexity and impact of piri piri sauce is so much greater than the sum of its parts.  Easy to prepare and very budget friendly, piri piri sauce is an excellent way to extend the BBQ season into fall and bring a welcome savoriness to simple grilled chicken.

Chicken Piri Piri

12 - 16 red chiles, depending on size (cayenne, jalapeno, serrano, etc.)

1 red bell pepper

5 cloves garlic

1 - 2 lemons, depending on size and juice content

1/2 c. canola oil

kosher salt

12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Hot, buttered brown rice

Remove stems from chiles and then, if you wish, deseed.  (Removing seeds will lessen the heat.)  Drop through the chute of a food processor, cover chute, and process until chiles are finely chopped.  Add the garlic and process until garlic is equally chopped.

Cut the red pepper into rough cubes and add to the food processor.  Process again, so that the chiles, garlic, and bell pepper are all rather evenly sized.  Zest lemon(s) and add to the processor bowl.  Sprinkle in a bit of salt and pulse a few times to blend. 

With the motor running, slowly pour the lemon juice, then oil, through the chute.   This is where your palate comes in.  Start by adding half of the lemon juice then add more until you like the balance of heat and acidity.  Adjust as is necessary with salt.

Pour about half of the sauce into a large ziplock back, add the chicken, and squish to expose all surfaces of the meat to the sauce.  Let marinade in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. 

When you're ready to grill, preheat your grill until it's hot, or about 400 degrees.  If you can, absolutely use charcoal, as it lends a critical taste profile to the finished dish.  Grill chicken over direct heat for about 5-6 minutes per side, or until internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees.  The flavor is best if you develop a few spots of nice char and crisp up the edges. 

Serve chicken over hot, buttered rice and serve the additional piri piri sauce alongside for dipping (or just pour it on top if you know you like the heat.)  Be sure to butter the rice, as the richness of the butter cuts the heat and intensity of the sauce.

For more info: contact Keri, the Part Time Chef, at