Piri Piri Chicken

This could be a story about how when we went to Portugal we ate terrific piri piri chicken.

It would be one of those blog posts. Like the holiday facebook album of people you were once close to, you’ll probably skim through, and click away with a sniff of disapproval (how in the heck do they finance this kind of gadding about the world? Don’t they have a mortgage?)  and perhaps a hint of disdain.

Except don’t worry. It’s not.

The trip to Portugal (circa 2011) was tinged with a little disappointment. I’m here to confess that we did not find the ‘Portugese chicken’ we hoped in Portugal.

Even in my memories the city of Lisbon in late June is not for the faint hearted. It’s searingly hot- it’s the kind of heat where the  pavement seems to warp from the beating beams of glare. The air is soupish and sticky and the only place you want to be is in the water, or the shade doing nothing more energetic than chasing stray drips off an ice cream.

I’m sure if we looked properly we might have found the quarter of chicken, charred and burnished, blistered with peppers, oregano, citrus and acids that we hoped for. Except we didn’t. On the final day I ran for shade and ate salt cod for lunch. The Hungry One scoffed some prawns and was a little sad.  The smell of my salt cod reminds him of the days when his mum used to soak it for days in the sink of his childhood kitchen. It’s a memory that muddles bad smells with a bit of loss.

What he wanted to eat was ‘Portugese Chicken’ (eye winking, finger bending apostrophes important).

Our vision of ‘Portugese Chicken’ came from another beach side suburb;  Oporto’s of Bondi. The original outpost, before it turned into a flabby Australian chain frequented by drunk twenty year old blokes at midnight was on Ben Buckler- at one end of Sydney’s most famous beach.

Their  ‘flame grilled chicken’ came in two varieties; the Bondi and the ‘Norm’.  From there it was swaddled in a white bun, soused with mayo, lettuce and a lurid orange, nose clearingly spicy sauce.

I’m sure a foot or two of  The Hungry One’s 6 ft two-in-bare-feet-frame are comprised of Bondi burgers. It was where he took me on one of our earliest dates, with sand still clinging to the backs of our shins. Back then I didn’t eat much chilli. He wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work out.

The ‘Portugese Chicken’ that we scoffed in Bondi was a take on piri piri chicken.  For those more interested in authenticity and less in chain chicken restaurants,  piri piri is a spice blend of chillis, with citrus, oregano, paprika, onion and garlic. While it’s Portugese in origin it’s most common in parts of Africa, including South Africa. There are plenty of South African immigrants in Bondi, which might help explain its presence there.

There is less of all of that in Lisbon it would seem.

And this is where the travel story ends. With a little whimper and some disappointment. And the smell of salt cod.

These days we eat piri piri chicken when we’re at home- because it’s actually a doddle to make and gives you a break from all the other chicken recipes you turn to. Chicken recipes like this. Or this. Or this.

And most pertinently, we’re eating piri piri chicken this week because there’s another thing that happens when you travel- something which doesn’t show up on facebook albums and we don’t talk about it too much in smug twinged blog posts. It’s called getting sick. It comes from  late nights and early mornings in transit.  Germs in airports. Folks sneezing on you in planes. If you travel a lot, you’re probably going to get more than your fair share of colds.

Two days ago The Hungry One returned from Oktoberfest and he’s not well.  A spatchcocked chicken, spices, garlic and citrus to help. Not much else will.  Beneath it we’re still continuing on the low carb bent, so it’s kale with black beans muddled with the roasted tomatoes and peppers.

We won’t be eating this by the beach. We won’t be eating it somewhere exotic with another stamp on our passport and some photos to share. We’re eating it at our dining table, dressed in track suits. And despite the fact that this recipe makes enough for four, we’re shunning company and shutting in for a bit.. Because the only thing better than piri piri chicken with black beans, is piri piri chicken- in soup.

Piri Piri Chicken

Serves 4, or 2 with leftovers (which make an excellent chicken soup).

1 small blender. 1 baking tray. Kitchen scissors. Meat thermometer (optional).


Piri Piri Marinade
1 small red onion, peeled and cut into rough chunks
1 head of garlic (5-6 cloves, peeled)
½ cup of olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 chillis (seeded, or not, depending on how spicy you like things)
1 red pepper, stem removed, roughly chopped
1 tbsp paprika
½ tbsp dried oregano
Juice and zest of half a lemon
Pinch of salt
Optional, brown sugar – depending on sweetness levels of the peppers and red wine vinegar
1.8- 2kg chicken, backbone cut out and splayed (butterflied or spatchcocked)

To serve
1x 400 gram tin of black beans, rinsed and drained
3 double handfuls of kale, roughly chopped and wilted
200 grams of cherry tomatoes
6 marinated red peppers, drained and diced
Aioli/ garlic mayonnaise

Here’s how we roll

1) Blitz together all of the ingredients for the marinade. Taste. Adjust flavouring. If you like more heat, add the chilli flakes or some ground chilli. If it’s too acrid, add a little brown sugar. The sweetness and the heat will depend on which peppers, chillis and red wine vinegar you use. You want a balance of warmth and vinegar.

2) Cut the backbone out of the chicken. The easiest way is with some kitchen scissors. Splay the chicken out.  Pour the marinade over the chicken and leave for an hour so the flavours can get to know each other (you could also do this in the morning, before you go to work and leave it covered in a tupperware in the fridge).

3) Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F. Add the cherry tomatoes next to the chicken on the baking tray.

4) Bake for 40 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven.

5) Remove the cherry tomatoes and scrape any excess of gloopy  marinade off the skin- you want it to be exposed to the grill. Switch the oven onto a high grill. Place the chicken back under the grill for 10 minutes, until the skin has crisped.

6) Check that the chicken meat is cooked to 73 C/165 F internally and that the juices at the thigh run clear. Leave to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

7)  To make the side combine in a saucepan the rinsed and drained  black beans, kale, roasted cherry tomatoes and sliced marinated peppers. Stir to combine and heat through the beans.

8) Serve the chicken with the black beans and kale, with a little extra sauce and some aiolli/ garlic mayonnaise on the side.

  1. Next time you come to Portugal, look for restaurants who have “frango da Guia” – specifically in Guia, Albufeira, in the Algarve. They offer one the best piri piri chicken, I think.

    Yours looks delicious, though. 🙂

  2. Oporto is my measure of Portuguese chicken too! This recipe http://australianfood.about.com/od/meats/r/BondiBurger.htm makes a fantastically close analogue for the sauce.

  3. I have to try this! looks so easy and yet so delicious…

  4. We loved Lisbon in June. Granted it was hot, we had a stroller to push up and down the hills and a then only-child in the throes of the Terrible Twos. But it was the perfect week end get away. We stayed in an incredible hotel (an ancient palace with a wood-pannelled library where you could sip freely from the port decanter, flip through books and listen to classical music or Fado while looking out on the roofs of the old town and the best pasteis de nata for breakfast after Belem). We accidentally had lunch in a tiny local restaurant that served the most incredible grilled sardines I have ever had. I also did not have Portuguese chicken, but we have our own favorite family recipe for that so it didn’t matter. If you decide to give it another try I would be happy to give the address of our hotel. In the meantime, I will try this.

  5. It’s great to see a bit of realism in travel accounts, rather than reading about everything always being perfect – I loved this post. And Piri Piri chicken soup? That almost sounds worth getting sick for. Hope the Hungry One feels better soon.

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