(Vicki James) I was remembering our wonderful dining experience at Ramires in Guia, Portugal. Once we returned home, I started scouting for a great Piri Piri chicken recipe to try at home. There are many to be found on the internet, and I perused more than a few. I knew I had hit pay dirt when I found this recipe on a lovely blog by Nelson Carvelheiro. His Piri Piri chicken recipe also includes a photo blog of his sweet Portuguese grandmother making the recipe just as she has every Sunday for years. There is a terrific picture of her with her adorable black and white puppy. You’ll fill your cuteness quotient for the day.
He recommends against using commercially raised chickens sold in supermarkets, but since I don't have a chicken coop in the back yard, I didn't have much choice. I did purchase an organic chicken that had been air chilled at Publix, and it turned out to be delicious. Plus, I didn't have to wring its neck or pluck the feathers, so that was a big plus for me. I did wholeheartedly agree that the chicken needed to be cooked slowly over charcoal. I don't think a gas grill would do the trick.
But what really sets this chicken apart is the wonderful Piri Piri sauce! I made a few adjustments to Mr. Carvalheiro’s recipe, so I’m going to provide my amended version instead of his. But by all means look up his blog and enjoy the photographs and his remarks on the making of the Piri Piri sauce. I know you’ll find it as entertaining and informative as I did.
My first problem was finding the right peppers. I agonized over that decision quite a bit because I had read that the bird’s eye chilis from Africa that are used by the Portuguese are not commercially available in the states. I've since seen them listed in recipes for Thai cuisine, so I guess they are available in some places. But not here. I decided I would just have to improvise.
Off I trotted to the Fresh Market, my best chance of finding exotic ingredients. What I found in the produce department was some bright red chilis about three inches long. Once I got them home, I persuaded my heat loving husband to try them for me so I'd know how many to use. He bravely nibbled a bit. At first he said they weren't very hot. Then the afterburn kicked in. His eyes teared up and he demanded water. Nevertheless, he thought we should use all five of the peppers I'd brought home! You can make the sauce while the chicken is on the grill, because you can toss it together in a flash. You do not want to use it as a marinade.
Piri Piri Sauce
In a food processor, combine the following:
One half cup good quality olive oil
10 cloves of fresh garlic
3 large bay leaves
One teaspoon of smoked paprika
Three to five red chilis – depending on size and heat level desired
Process until you have a thick, slightly chunky sauce
Let the chicken come to room temperature while you are heating up the charcoal. Do not use lighter fluid. Invest in an electric fire starter. All the big hardware chains carry them. It allows you to quickly start your charcoal without having to add stuff that is going to ruin the taste of your food. Cut the backbone out of the chicken, open it out flat, and give it a big “thwack” on the back with the heel of your hand to flatten it even more. Season the chicken with salt.
Place the chicken on the grill skin side up. Keep the chicken high above the coals so that they don't flame up and char the chicken skin during the cooking process. Turn the chicken after about twenty minutes. Cook the chicken skin side down for another 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the chicken skin side up. Dip a bunch of fresh Italian parsley or cilantro into the sauce and use the fresh bunch of herbs to brush the sauce on the chicken. Keep basting for about 5 minutes. Then flip the chicken once again to crisp up the skin.
Serve with French fries or oven roasted potato wedges and a salad of greens, tomato, onion tossed with a simple vinaigrette made from oil and vinegar and lots of dried oregano.
This simple and easy meal is very typical of Portugal, especially in the south. Don't be afraid of the spicy sauce. Once it cooks on the chicken it's much more gentle. In fact, you might want to add a little more when you eat it. My husband, who clearly had not learned his lesson, slathered it on.
Once grilling weather arrives, try it as an alternative to standard barbecued chicken. It could become your “go to” for summer entertaining.