The word peri-peri is a variation of piri-piri or pili-pili which is Swahili for “pepper-pepper” and refers specifically to the African bird’s eye chili. The dish however is Portuguese in origin – the fiery little buggers made their way from Portugal to Africa where they were crossbred then back to Portugal on spice ships and before long, it was turned into a delicious spicy sauce which can go on pretty much anything. Curiously, the Portuguese kept the chili’s African name.
There doesn’t seem to be an even remotely definitive recipe for peri-peri sauce. But a quick look online revealed that the basic elements were heat, acid and garlic. I wanted to add an exotic twist with a couple more spices and came up with this recipe for peri-peri chicken:
5 chicken breast fillets
9 chicken thigh fillets
6 large labuyo chilies
1/2 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic, crushed
the zest and juice of 2 limes
1 T ground coriander
1/2 t cinnamon
2 t paprika
1 T salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
A lot of chicken, I know! I had bought a pack each of chicken breast and thigh fillets and I used roughly half the chicken.
1. Trim the fat off the chicken pieces and set aside in a plastic container. Keep in mind that the marinade will be going into this container later. For the marinade, I thought I’d extract maximum flavor by “blooming” the spices and the rest of the ingredients. So in a saucepan, I added everything in the recipe after the chicken and heated it on low until it started to simmer and the mixture became very fragrant. Also, I had no idea how spicy this was gonna turn out so I cut the chili into pretty big pieces. It would be easier to discard later if it turned out way too hot and I didn’t want it in my dish.
Once it’s done, set aside to cool. As usual, in my excitement, I wanted to help along the cooling process so I stood in front of a fan while enthusiastically stirring the marinade. A very small amount splattered on my face at some point and I had ghost chili on my right cheek for about half an hour after washing. Imagine if it had gone in my eye! I swear, cooking came into my life to teach me patience. Moral of the story is it’s best to just leave it be and let it do its thang.
2. When the marinade has cooled, pour it into the container with the chicken pieces and move them around with a spoon to evenly distribute the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours. That’s right, twelve.
I decided on broccoli popcorn as a side to the peri-peri chicken. It’s really just roasted broccoli that’s charred more than you normally would. For my broccoli popcorn, I used:
2 medium heads of broccoli
the zest and juice of 1 lime
about 1/4 cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 220 C/425 F. Cut the broccoli into florets. I also used the stalk, just chopped it up into roughly 1 inch pieces. Put it all on your baking tray. Add the lime zest and juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss.
2. Pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes, checking during the tail end that it chars but doesn’t burn. In case you’re wondering, this is not two medium heads of broccoli. I had to cook mine in two batches.
This is absolutely delicious. I’m so glad I used the stalks – when charred like this, they taste almost buttery. You can serve as is or sprinkle some grated cheese on top. Yum-o.
I left the oven going because I wanted to finish my chicken breasts in the oven. Peri-peri chicken, here we go! By the way, I checked on the marinating chicken about an hour before the 12-hour mark and found that the marinade had solidified in the fridge. I had to leave it out to thaw. FYI.
1. Place a grill pan on medium high heat. When the pan is hot enough, sear the chicken breast pieces. A sneezing fit ensued, snot started to flow freely and my vision started to blur but I soldiered on.
2. Transfer to a baking tray and top with pieces of garlic and chili. Roast in the oven for about 5 minutes. When done, set aside to rest the meat.
While the chicken breasts were resting, I finished the thigh fillets on the grill pan. I think they took maybe 4 minutes on each side. And finally, the peri-peri chicken with broccoli popcorn is served!
Soft focus is unintentional. I think I got too close to the grilling chicken and got splatters of oil on my lens. OH WHO CARES, my peri-peri chicken was too salty! It was so salty that at first bite I got a whisper of the spices, a faint kick and a whole lot of salt. The broccoli popcorn was pretty well-seasoned too so that was a double whammy. Oh, it made me so peri-peri sad!
I need to make this again and I will get it right! I shall cut the salt in half and add more labuyo next time. And I think a sweet side dish would be a better match. Sweet potato fries? Fried plantains? Suggestions are most welcome.
The only silver lining to this dish was the salad I made with it the next day. I shredded the leftover peri-peri chicken, toasted some pine nuts, put together a simple balsamic vinaigrette and tossed it all with some greens. And that was pretty yum. After sitting for another day, the spices were more prominent and it wasn’t as salty. Or was it the sweet balsamic vinegar and the creamy nuttiness of the pine nuts?
In any case, I’m gonna console myself with this salad for the next couple days. In the meantime, watch for Peri-Peri Chicken The Sequel coming soon.
Fun Food Fact: All chilies found around the world today have their origins in Mexico, Central America and South America. Chilies were spread by the Spanish and the Portuguese in their quest to build a global empire and are still grown in their former colonies in Africa and Asia. (Thank you, Wikipedia!)