The One Ingredient You Need For Authentic Portuguese Piri-Piri Chicken

If you like your chicken spicy and find yourself hankering for a meal of piri-piri chicken, you are in good company. Prince Harry is among the many who have a propensity for the Portuguese dish, but the royal is not the only well known name that enjoys this fiery food. Per Vogue, piri-piri chicken (and specifically the South African restaurant chain Nando's that is known for their version of it) also has a celebrity fan base that includes the likes of Drake, Adele, and Bella Hadid stopping by the fast food chain for a little feasting on the famously piquant dish. What exactly is piri-piri chicken? 

According to Nando's, piri-piri (sometimes spelled peri-peri) is another name for African Bird's Eye Chili, which is used to create a spicy, tangy sauce that the chain allows its chicken to bathe in before being flame-grilled to produce a juicy, succulent, and flavorful piece of chicken. The Guardian notes that while piri-piri chicken is a Portuguese dish, piri-piri is actually Swahili for "pepper-pepper." This bright red pepper packs a lot of heat, clocking in as high as 175,000 heat units on the Scoville Scale. Piri-piri's heat, along with the other ingredients the chili pepper is paired with to create the dish's fiery sauce, sets off a fiesta of fireworks for your mouth that leave you longing for more. In fact, if you have plans to try to replicate this experience in your own kitchen, unsurprisingly the one ingredient you need to make it authentic is real piri-piri.

Piri-piri peppers bring more than just heat

Obviously, the spiciness of this dish — that has incidentally sent us to the refrigerator on several occasions for a glass of milk to cut the heat — is the most important ingredient for the sauce. Per Thrillist, piri-piri sauce traditionally is comprised of the eponymous chili peppers, lemon, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, and oil, but those are just the base ingredients. As The Guardian observed, it's really how the piri-piri peppers work with the other ingredients to create the iconic flavor of the sauce that you need to keep in mind when you make your own. They suggest that getting the "sharpness" just right is critical to creating a good piri-piri sauce. Whether you choose lemon juice or vinegar is a matter of preference, but you can always balance out the acidity of that ingredient with either sugar or port. (Again, a matter of personal taste.)

When it comes to marinating your chicken in the piri-piri sauce, the length of time needed to soak-up all those beautiful flavors tends to vary. Nando's states on their website that they marinate their chicken for 24 hours, while The Guardian recommends letting it steep overnight. The outlet also shares that food scientist Harold McGee says two hours in the piri-piri marinade is more than sufficient.