Sunday, November 02, 2008

Piri-Piri Makes Its Way

You're looking at piri-piri chicken from Nando's (which uses the "peri-peri" South African spelling) with sides of spicy rice and excellent cole slaw. Nando's is a modern family type restaurant at at 810 7th Street NW in Washington, DC's Chinatown. It also sells five different versions of it own peri-peri sauce in bottles and enjoys a substantial carry-out business. Nando's is an international enterprise that originated as a restaurant opened during the 1970's in South Africa by former Portuguese colonists from Mozambique, where, as in the former Portuguese colony of Angola, piri-piri is much like curry is to India.

In the United States, awareness of the piri-piri flavor profile seems to be making its way in recent years from obscure older cookbooks toward the fringes of our culinary mainstream. Major credit goes to Nando's. My first encounter with Nando's peri-peri was at their booth during New York's National Association of Specialty Food Traders (NASFT) International Fancy Food Show the summer of 2006.

The most elaborate piri-piri delight I ever encountered was this Grilled Shrimp piri piri baby romaine garnished with cilantro, red onions and who knows what else. That was at Merkato 55 in Manhattan's Meatpacking District in conjunction with a dining experience shared in our September 24 post here at Unique Culinary Adventures.

Piri-piri is the name of a hot pepper, known also as the African birds-eye pepper, which is ubiquitous throughout the central African continent. A bit of research, however, has convinced me that just about any fiery hot red pepper will work just as well.

Cayenne in particular comes to mind. The chicken piri-piri at left was inspired by a recipe from The Africa News Cookbook that went so far as to cite everyday cayenne powder as suitable. Another unusual aspect of this recipe that especially pleased me was the idea of adding melted butter to a fresh batch of marinade ingredients for basting and then for dipping once the chicken has been grilled. Here's how I went about it:


1 Chicken, cut into serving pieces

8 Crushed red peppers or 4 heaping teaspoons of cayenne

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 cloves of garlic: crushed

12 sprigs parsley, chopped

1 cup butter to be melted

Juice of two medium sized lemons, juiced separately

Combine the chicken in a bowl with the juice of one of the two lemons half of the crushed peppers or cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, 2 cloves of the crushed garlic, and 6 sprigs of the parsley. Stir around to mix well. Marinate for two hours at room temperature, or better refrigerated and covered overnight. Remove the chicken and combine any marinade remaining in the bowl with the melted butter and remaining peppers, salt, garlic, and parsley. Baste the chicken with the spiced butter and broil---or better grill---to desired level of doneness, basting occasionally. Serve with remaining spiced butter as a dipping sauce.

Marinade and sauce prepared according to instructions from The Africa News Cookbook, Copyrighted in 1985 by Africa News Service, Inc., Published by Penquin Books, New York