Piri Piri Chicken


Piri Piri Chicken

The grilling season is upon us. I’m excited. The summer stretches out in front of me like one long BBQ sizzling with stuffed squid, beer-can duck, tikka, grilled pineapple salsa, sardines, smoky baba and of course, plenty of jerk (top tips for great jerk here).

Portuguese piri piri chicken is something I’ve been meaning to experiment with for a while. We’ve survived the winter by ordering from Na Pura in Nunhead. The chicken there has a good flavour and is cooked well but I do wish they’d use better quality birds. They also take forever to cook them. After a batch of wings and a chicken or two I’ve hammered down my own recipe and the time has come to say that I’m sorry, Na Pura, but your services are no longer required.

My piri piri sauce is a combination of shed-loads of fierce little chillies, oregano, paprika, garlic, vinegar, oil and sugar; the sweet/sharp balance makes it perfect for the BBQ and BBQ’d it must be because char is very important for this recipe. The skin should be blackened in places. The vinegar in the marinade tenderises the meat keeping it juicy and moist inside. The other important thing to remember is to keep a pot of marinade and a brush to hand when grilling; brush the bird liberally and often. When she’s done, give her a final coat before serving with wedges of lemon and a big salad. And a beer.

It’s nice to serve a pot of the sauce at the table with a little brush, like Restaurante Bonjardim in Lisbon.

Piri Piri Chicken

(makes enough for 2 chickens)

30 piri piri or other small red chillies (obviously you may need to adjust the amount according to the chillies you have available)
3 teaspoons dried oregano (fresh would be lovely but it’s quite hard to find around here)
2 level tablespoons paprika
150ml red wine vinegar
200ml olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
Chicken (see instructions on spatchcocking at the end)

Whack everything in a blender until smooth. Pour half of the marinade over your meat, cover and refrigerate overnight. Turn the bird around in the marinade every now and then. When it comes to grilling your bird/s, get the coals white hot then move them to the edges of the BBQ and put your chicken in the middle. Brush regularly with the marinade. Cook until the skin is blackened in places and the bird is cooked through (about 20-25 mins per side for a spatchcocked chicken).

Brush again with the marinade before serving.

If you’re cooking a whole bird on the BBQ, spatchcock (butterfly) it to ensure it cooks fast and evenly. To do this, place the bird breast-side down on a board, with the tail towards you. Using scissors, cut along each side of the backbone to remove it (this requires a little welly as you’re cutting through the ribs but it’s not that difficult). Turn the bird over and use the heel of your hand to push down on the breastbone so that it’s all one thickness. Use skewers to secure the legs and keep the shape of the chicken by pushing them through the thigh and then diagonally through the breast. A bird will take 15-20 minutes per side. If you want to see someone doing it there are some good vids on youtube.

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    Reply shayma April 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    wow wow wow wow Helen. just wow. you are so talented. x shayma

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    Reply Maunika April 17, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Love! Next time I’m coming to yours for a bbq. This looks amazing esp with the chicken soaking all that spiced marinade.

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    Reply alexthepink April 17, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Looks fabulous, can’t wait to move to somewhere with a garden so I can try this out!

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    Reply Ed April 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    This looks great. Very excited about the need for 30 chillis in the sauce.

    I love the BBQ season…

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    Reply Paul April 18, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Looks gorgeous, good Piri Piri is hard to beat and this sounds excellent!

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    Reply David April 18, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Controversial stuff here, Helen. Dispensing with Na Pura’s services huh?

    I agree that their service leaves much to be desired. I’m not sure if it’s a Portugese relaxed attitude but I’ve waited too long too often both in the shop and for delivery. Idiosyncratic would be kind.

    But I’m interested in your assessment of their chicken….I’m presuming it’s not some free-range organic beauty but I’ve not felt it was that shoddy either.

    Nonetheless the recipe looks great and I’ll look forward to drawing a comparison. Keep up the good work.

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    Reply Helen April 18, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Hey David, well the thing is I didn’t notice about the chicken either until I ate it cold. If you eat it cold you really notice, it was gross and weird and flabby like it is when you get a cheap chicken. I mean I’m not the fussiest person in the world either; I buy free range but don’t bother with organic. The flavour of their chicken is great though. I probably will order from them again when I can’t be arsed making my own.

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    Reply Sharmila April 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    This looks fabulous. Think I will be knocking up a jerk and piri piri chicken duo for my two BBQs next week!

    And thanks for the info on Na Pura – have been intending to get takeout from there for ages, but haven’t got around to it.

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    Reply Lizzie April 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    LOOK AT THAT BIRD! Lovely stuff. I’ve never spatchcocked a chicken; this must change.

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    Reply The Grubworm April 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Drooling. I am drooling at the picture of that chicken. Why do I not BBQ birds more often, they take so well to a bit of char. And that sauce sounds fierce and extremely tasty. How do piri piri measure up to those wee Thai peppers (scuds/mouseshit peppers)? They’re my regular measure of heat and that is not something you want to get wrong.

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    Reply gastrogeek April 19, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    this looks splendid- I can almost smell it….just the perfect way to kick off the BBQ season

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    Reply Gourmet Chick April 20, 2011 at 5:16 am

    I have regular cravings for Bonjarim’s piri piri chicken looks like I can now replicate it if I can just get my hands on a BBQ!

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    Reply thelittleloaf April 20, 2011 at 7:41 am

    This one’s getting filed under ‘amazing recipes to try once I have a bbq’. With this hot weather I think an Easter trip to Homebase may be in order…bring on bbq season!

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    Reply JOHNC April 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Helen
    Love the site. Quick question, are the small red chillis you mention birds eye chillis?


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    Reply Helen April 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Hi JOHNC, Thanks, and no, they are not. If you use birds eye chillies I would suggest cutting the amount in half, tasting it and seeing if you want any more. If you use 30 it will probably blow your head off but then I don’t know what your tolerance for heat is like!

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    Reply Betty Herbert April 22, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I made this last night and it was divine, despite the fact I had to finish it off in the oven due to owning a crap barbecue. Bravo!

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    Reply Cindy Black April 23, 2011 at 3:58 am

    I just grilled a spatchcocked whole chicken on the grill a couple weeks ago… and it was fantastic! It was so tender and smokey and sooo much better than a typical roasted chicken. Now I’m eager to try this spicy version. How do you think this would work with duck? I wonder if the duck fat would create too much flame-up?

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    Reply Helen April 24, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Hi Cindy,

    You can cook a whole duck on the BBQ but you’ll need to use the indirect cooking method, i.e. move the coals to the sides once they are hot because otherwise you’ll get massive flare up. Putting a drip tray in between the coals will help too. I don’t think the piri piri sauce would be too nice with the duck though, not sure if that’s what you meant or not!

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    Reply Bimbokim May 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Try some bay powder in the piri, I buy it when I’m in Portugal and it’s a nice addition. I think an authentic addition too.

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    Reply Helen May 14, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    What a fabulous tip! Thank you!

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    Reply Jason Galletti December 30, 2014 at 9:20 am

    Great post, i made your recipe for dinner last night, it was simple and tasted great!

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      Reply Helen December 30, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Great! So pleased you liked it.

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    Reply Kay September 29, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Looks lovely but I’ve just tried the marinade and 150ml red wine vinegar is just too pungent for me…. It overwhelms everything …

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      Reply Helen Graves September 30, 2016 at 5:57 am

      Hi Kay, it’s pungent yes but not once cooked. Try reducing it if it’s too much for you.

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      Reply Helen Graves September 30, 2016 at 5:58 am

      I should add that too that it’s really important to use good quality red wine vinegar because that will make a huge difference.

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    Reply andrew copley March 7, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    Hi Helen, going to make this the weekend and have a couple questions:

    Are the piri piri chilles dried and is the paprika you use the Spanish smoked variety?


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      Reply Helen Graves March 7, 2019 at 3:08 pm

      Hi Andrew – searching my brain here because this was 8 years ago! Hmm I must update these old recipes. I think the paprika is regular paprika and I would just use any red chillies you can find. You’ll need to adjust the amount according to the heat however so maybe taste as you go? Don’t be afraid to add a lot because you’re only coating the outside of the chicken!

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    Reply andrew copley March 8, 2019 at 10:28 am

    Thanks Helen, appreciate your response !

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