…have you missed me?
I MOST CERTAINLY have missed all of you as I have taken the last two months off to travel Europe, moving between My secret lairs scattered throughout the Continent as I rested, recharged and took the longest single holiday of My entire life! Traveling to Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland has granted Me a new hunger to share recipes from these countries, which have been long awaited by TFD Nation! As such, allow Me to start with this Portuguese classic – a personal favorite!
Astute, long-time readers of the blog may recall that I have in fact posted two other recipes in this family tree – but they were not “piri piri” but rather, “peri peri” – in other words, the Mozambican ancestor of this Portuguese staple that has now taken the world by storm!
Mozambican peri peri sauce and Mozambique prawn curry with peri peri sauce are both magnificent examples of ancestral dishes to the Portuguese classic, but they have a slightly different flavor profile and lack several herbs and seasonings found in Portugal’s version. Still, the Mozambican and Portuguese versions are inextricably tied together, and I enjoy all these versions when My palate craves the spicy hit of capsaicin tempered by oil, herbs, spices and even some alcohol (in the Portuguese).
Pilipili in Swahili means “pepper”. Other romanizations include pili pili in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and peri peri in Malawi, deriving from various pronunciations of the word in different parts of Bantu-speaking Africa. Peri peri is also the spelling used as a loanword in some African Portuguese-language countries, especially in the Mozambican community.
The peri-peri spelling is common in English, for example in reference to African-style chili sauce, but in Portuguese it is commonly spelled piri-piri. The Oxford Dictionary of English records peri-peri as a foreign word meaning “a very hot sauce made with red chilli peppers”, and gives its ultimate origin as the word for “pepper” (presumably in the native-African sense) in the Ronga language of southern Mozambique. Some Bird’s eye chili varieties measure up to 175,000 Scoville heat units.
Like all chili peppers, piri piri is descended from plants from the Americas, but it has grown in the wild in Africa for centuries and is now cultivated commercially in Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda. It grows mainly in Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Portugal. It is cultivated for both commercial food processing and the pharmaceutical industry. Cultivation of piri piri is quite labor-intensive.
The sauce was originally produced by Portuguese mixing pepper with condiments they trade with their territories in Asia and India. Given the lack of reliable sources, it seems impossible to say more than the sauce was originally produced within the Portuguese Empire, either in their Asian territories or in their territories in Southern Africa or elsewhere.
The sauce is made from peri-peri (aka African Birds Eye) chilis and it is used as a seasoning or a marinade. Beyond Portugal and the Southern African region (Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa) where it is very popular, the sauce is particularly well known in the United Kingdom due to the success of the South African restaurant chain Nando’s that helped popularize the African version of the dish – but the Portuguese is indeed different.
Peri peri recipes vary from region to region, and sometimes within the same region depending on intended use (cooking vs. seasoning at the table) but the key ingredients are always chili and garlic, with an oily or acidic base. Other common ingredients are salt, spirits (usually whiskey), citrus peel, onion, pepper, bay leaves, paprika, pimiento, basil, oregano and tarragon.
As noted on the excellent website foodfuntravel.com in this excerpt from a larger article:
The word peri peri comes from the Swahili word “pilipili” meaning “pepper” – and just like in English, the word pepper can refer to black pepper, chili pepper, or bell pepper – or at least that’s what google translate tells me. That said, the primary translation seems for it to mean Chili pepper, and as an adjective, it means spicy. Swahili is today spoken in South East Africa, most importantly for this story, in Mozambique.
There are lots of different estimates on the origin of Swahili language, the oldest record of its use in Mozambique is from the written record of Portuguese missionaries there in 1562 (Page 14).
As chilis came from the new world though, it seems likely the word pili pili was either taken from previous uses – perhaps being used originally for black pepper, or it reached Swahili via another language. Either way, the Portuguese are famed for spreading chilis around the world, written records show they reached Goa in India, via Portuguese traders, and were being used to cook with by 1516.
The other theory is that it is from the Tsonga language of Mozambique region, which is part of the same language group as Swahili. but the word, with slightly varying pronunciations, seems to exist across the region from the Congo basin to South Africa. As Mozambique became a Portuguese colony in 1498, its quite likely the chilis arrived there also in the early 16th century.
The peri peri sauce itself has varying recipes, not surprisingly the common ingredient in all of them is peri peri chilis. Other main ingredients are lemon, salt and oil. Other optional ingredients include onion, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaves, paprika, basil, oregano, and tarragon Though it is most popular used with Chicken around the world, In Mozambique it is like a universal sauce that may be used with meat or seafood.
Does Piri piri chicken have a Mozambican origin? And who first made the sauce?
The name would suggest that the sauce was first created in Mozambique, or nearby. Historical record seems to let us down at this point. Could the sauce have been invented by Portuguese colonisers living in Mozambique and then the recipe made it’s way back to Portugal?
At a time when butchering the chicken young, and eating a whole grilled chicken would have seemed pretty wasteful, and completely out of reach of those who were living a mostly subsistence lifestyle, some authors have suggested that whole grilled piri piri chicken may not have made it onto dining tables until the 20th century.
The dish really took hold in Portugal in the 1970s, after 1974 due to intensive farming bringing down the cost of chickens but also because, after the fall of the dictator in 1974, the Portuguese empire started to dissolve, and many overseas residents returned from the African colonies, bringing local foods like piri piri sauce back with them and the idea of marinating meat in this sauce.
Iona McCleery, associate professor of medieval history and Portuguese history at the University of Leeds, UK, believes that eating chili in Portugal was pretty rare historically, even though they planted so much of it in the colonies. And most of the production was used locally.
Restaurant Ramires, in the small town of Guia on the Algarve coast, claims to have been the first restaurant in Portugal to start serving Piri Piri Chicken. They claim they first served it in 1964, as they’d been getting requests from those returning from the colonies. As larger migrations happened after 1974, the demand in the region grew and grew.
As the epicentre of Piri Piri Chicken in Portugal, Guia hosts an annual piri-piri chicken festival (Festa do Frango da Guia), which normally takes place every year in early August.
In order to PROPERLY make this spectacular and simple dish, it is necessary to first secure the proper chicken type. Chickens in Portugal are smaller than American domestic birds, and as such I prefer to make these with heirloom chicken breeds that are smaller (and tastier!) than the standard factory birds – check your supermarket or upscale butcher for them. They’re worth using, trust Me! You also NEED to grill these outdoors over charcoal – if not, you are dead to Me. Move along, nothing to see here…
The essence of a supreme specimen of piri piri chicken, is – of course – the sauce and Mine does not in any way, shape or form disappoint! Like all proper Portuguese versions of the condiment, mine includes a goodly shot of booze – but not just ANY whiskey!
No, I went instead with the eccentric (and delicious!) decision to also incorporate the rare Portuguese herbal liqueur known as Licor Beirão! Made from 13 different herbs and spices such as coriander seeds, lavender, mint leaves, oregano and aniseed – it is simply MAGNIFICENT in this recipe! Buy it here or if you’re being pedestrian, just use all regular whiskey. To make a proper piri piri sauce, you also will need the right kind of chili pepper – and this is it!
To thicken the sauce and add even more body, I also call for grinding in a Calabrian hot pepper (buy them here) and I have further amped up the classic recipe with even more of My own unique touches, including (amongst others) wild oregano oil and bay leaf powder. I personally prefer to grill these delectable birds over the finest charcoal – and this, My Citizens, IS the best (if you prefer you can just use lump charcoal of high quality that is within your budget). This is My go-to Portuguese olive oil.
My Citizens, IT IS SO GOOD TO BE BACK WITH ALL OF YOU!!! My holiday leaves me reinvigorated and I am looking forward to sharing several new recipes to catch up for the two months I missed. Next up – recipes from the amazing countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia (which I had meant to visit but sadly had to cancel due to terrible storms preventing the ferry from Finland!) and Iceland!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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