Hot and deeply flavoured, this peri-peri chicken recipe could well become your favorite way to use chicken. The star in this dish is a sauce made with a chili that found its home in Africa around five centuries ago. You may know it as the African bird’s eye chili. But way, way before anyone gave it that comparatively bland tag, it was known in Africa as peri-peri – “pepper-pepper”. As they say about New York, this chili’s so good, they named it twice.
It forms the basis of an intense, richly flavored sauce that’s used to both baste the cooking chicken and then be served with it. Intense and richly flavored? Oh, yeah. It’s hot, for sure – just as you’d expect from a chili with a median Scoville ranking of 75k.
But there’s also the subtlety of slightly charred fruit. Think of hot-grilled peaches or maybe a baked apple. Like Africa itself, it’s complex. And difficult to understand unless you’ve experienced it first-hand.
In this recipe, the marinade for the chicken plays a major role. It adds to the depth of tastes. Lemon juice, mashed garlic and salt. Simple ingredients. But their simplicity combines to highlight the flavours of the chicken. The marinade is so important because it protects and maintains those flavours. And it ensures they don’t get overpowered by the peri-peri’s potent presence. There’s some paprika in the marinade, but it’s really there to give an appealing color.
Like so many of the best things in life, this recipe sticks to the notion of simpler being better. It’s quick to prepare and easy to cook. What more could you want?
Well, drinks, of course. A cold, light, crisp beer would top the list. Nothing too deeply hoppy. Maybe a Corona or a Sol. Perhaps a lager with a dash of lemonade. My African choice would be a couple of beers from Namibia, Windhoek Draught and Hansa.
But no matter where you are in the world, you could go for a drink from the country where Africa’s chili first arrived, Mozambique. Known as Katemba, it’s a straightforward, half and half mix of inexpensive dry red wine and icy-cold cola. You may well be pleasantly surprised by it.
Pinot Noir, oaked Chardonnay, Riesling and creamy, sparkling whites are all good. As, perhaps surprisingly, are fairly heavy reds. A big, lowish-priced Shiraz would my choice. Or, going lighter, a mellow Rosé.
Now, let’s look at some side dishes. First choice would be French fries – chicken and chips has always been a great combo. A boiled white rice is also good and gives a calming balance to the Peri-Peri’s spice.
But, I’d certainly also add to either of those side dishes a cooling salad of diced tomatoes, thinly sliced onions, lemon juice, olive oil, a little sugar, salt, and a few, small mixed salad leaves.
As they say in Mozambique – Bom Proveito. Enjoy the food.
- 4 whole chicken legs
The citrus marinade
The peri-peri sauce – made in a flash with a food processor
The citrus marinade and prep
- Thoroughly stir the marinade ingredients in a bowl big enough to fit the chicken legs. Add the legs and give them a good coating of marinade. Set aside – but not in the fridge – and leave while you continue the prep.
- Set your oven’s top and bottom elements so it heats to 325⁰ Fahrenheit (160⁰ Celsius).
- While the oven’s heating and legs marinating, make the peri-peri sauce.
Making the peri-peri sauce
- Put all the sauce ingredients into a food processor. Process until smooth. The chilies won’t disintegrate completely but will be finely chopped. That’s fine.
- Now taste the sauce for heat. Not enough? Add a few more roughly chopped chilies and process the sauce again. Remember that it will lose some heat as it cooks with the chicken.
- Remove the legs from the marinade. In a suitably large roasting pan, arrange them in a single layer.
- Now add whatever marinade remains to the sauce in your processor, give it a combining whizz and pour it all into a bowl. It’s ready to meet the chicken.
Cooking the chicken: roast first, broil second
- Use half the sauce to coat the legs all over. Now – and this is important – cover the roasting pan with a tightly sealed layer of tin foil. At this point, you don’t want the chicken getting direct heat.
- Place the covered pan onto the middle shelf of your pre-heated oven. The legs are going to roast there for a total of 30 minutes with a basting half-way through.
- After 15 minutes roasting, remove the pan, take off the foil and give the legs a good basting all over with the sauce in the pan. Replace the foil and put the pan back in the oven for a final ten mi to 15 minutes of roasting.
- When the 30-minute roast is done, take out the roasting pan then turn on your oven’s broiler to high.
- As your broiler heats, remove the foil from the chicken and give it an all-over basting with the pan’s sauce. If there’s not enough in the pan, not to worry. Half the sauce is still in your bowl – use a little to finish basting.
- You now move into a baste, broil, baste, broil routine. As soon as the broiler is hot, put the uncovered roasting pan back in the oven – still middle shelf. And watch it. As soon as the sauce starts bubbling and darkening on the chicken, turn the chicken and give it an all-over basting. This baste-and-broil routine will take about five minutes under a hot grill.
- Now, remove the pan, pour the remaining sauce around – rather than over – the chicken, and get the pan back under that hot grill. As soon as the sauce starts bubbling, the cooking’s done. You’re ready to serve your peri-peri chicken.