Peri Peri Sauce should be garlicy, spicy, lemony, tangy and utterly addictive. This bright, fresh, fully-flavoured version hits all the right notes.
My confession is that I had never tried peri peri sauce before. It is a sauce that originated in Portugal and then went on a long trip t0 several parts of Africa where it also became incredibly popular. It’s based on the peri peri chili or African Bird’s Eye Chili where it gets it’s flavourful heat, adding several herbs and spices plus plenty of lemony tanginess to balance the sauce.
Peri Per Sauce is at the centre of the incredible success of the Nando’s restaurant franchise which has been an overwhelming success in many parts of the world and particularly in the UK where it is now ingrained into the modern day culinary culture there. People seem to be addicted to “going for a Nando’s”, once or twice a week in many cases. There is no Nando’s restaurant franchise any where near where I live but I had the opportunity to try it on a recent visit to Ottawa and began to understand the addictive nature of peri peri sauce on flame grilled chicken.
As always happens in these cases, I determined to make my own version of the sauce, attempting to equal or better the flavour of Nando’s famous chicken. I bought a couple of bottles of their sauce to take home as a way to compare my peri peri sauce version to theirs, side-by-side. There are a LOT of recipes online for peri peri sauce and I read and tried several of them before tweaking my own recipe to get the flavour just right.
Finding the right Peri Peri Sauce flavours
First of all, I had little hope of finding the authentic Bird’s Eye Chilis here in St. John’s , so I substituted small Thai red chilis which are more readily available most places. They are only about half as spicy as the peri peri chilis but I used a fair amount of them and it worked well. Since I wanted to bottle my sauce after cooking it quickly, I used roasted red peppers as a base for the sauce along with grilled onions to boost the smoky flavour, add a little sweetness, and give the sauce more body so that it would be more brush-able.
Tasting Nando’s sauce from the bottle, like many commercially prepared sauces, I found it overly salty. I cut back a lot on the salt in the recipe, figuring that people would be doing their own seasoning on the chicken before cooking anyway. This also worked particularly well and I was absolutely delighted with the outcome of my experiment. The kids loved it, particularly Noah who, like me, is more inclined toward spicy foods. The real surprise though was Spouse! She doesn’t normally like things that are particularly spicy but she declared this to be the best chicken I had ever made! That’s quite something to say considering the hundreds of chicken recipes that are present on this website!
Nando’s offers their sauce in several versions from medium heat to extra hot but the good news is you can make it just how you like it, simply by adding more or less of the small thai red chilis to the recipe to easily control the sea level. Since I bottled this such last week, we have had the peri peri chicken twice and even had peri peri chicken burgers using boneless skinless chicken breasts for a quick dinner idea. I guess our family obsession with peri peri chicken is well underway.
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- 2 large red bell peppers char grilled
- 1 large red onion char grilled
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- zest of one lemon finely grated
- 10 small red Thai chilis roughly chopped (more to taste for hotter sauce)
- 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika or plain paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2 leaves bay
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- zest of one lemon finely minced
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Start by roasting the red peppers and onions. This can be done on a gas grill, under the broiler or on a cast iron grill pan. You want to get good char marks on the outside of the peppers and onions. Don't worry if they are not fully cooked, they will get fully cooked in the sauce.
Chop the peppers and onions and add them to a food processor or blender. You can us an immersion blender if that is all you have on hand, just take the time to get the ingredients well pureed.
Add the garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, lemon zest, red Thai chilis, smoked paprika, oregano, salt and pepper to the food processor with the grilled onions and peppers and puree until smooth.
Transfer the sauce to a medium saucepan, add the bay leaves and simmer slowly for 20-30 minutes.
Let the sauce cool to warm. Remove the bay leaves then return the sauce to the food processor again.
Add the additional lemon juice, red wine vinegar and lemon zest. Puree for another few minutes until very smooth. Slowly add in the olive oil in a thin stream as the processor is running.
To make Peri Peri Chicken, brush a little of the sauce onto all sides of the chicken you are using. You can use bone in, skin on chicken or boneless skinless chicken. Place the chicken pieces in a glass dish and cover with plastic wrap.Let the chicken marinate for several hours or overnight.
Grill over low heat on a glass grill until fully cooked, brushing on additional sauce in the last five to ten minutes of cook time. Serve with extra sauce for dipping at the table.