My favorite part of our trip to Portugal is that it was almost accidental. Like we have done almost every summer, in the spring we began looking for a house to rent on one fork or another of Long Island because it us. Frustrated by prices and lack of appealing inventory (“which kid should stay in the dark basement bedroom where we won’t hear their screams?” is definitely the conversation every parent wants to have before forking over more than a month’s rent for the honor) our friends confessed that they couldn’t stop thinking about going somewhere like Spain and Portugal, where we could rent a villa for significantly less money and, you know, go see another part of the world. I said yes. My husband said “but 8 hours on a plane with a baby!” and “she’s going to burst into flames on a beach!” (referring to me passing on my unfortunate pallor to our youngest) and then I starting getting all insufferably philosophical about how this is our life and we have two kids and we either learn how to take big vacations with them or we’re never going to see all the places we want to see in our lifetime … and then I said “you can totally blame me if this is terrible.” And somehow that did the trick. Let me know when you want me to write that marital advice book, okay?
We regret nothing and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the fact I didn’t make dinner once wasn’t part of the charm. We’d manage breakfast and lunch at home but found the restaurants to be very kid-friendly, almost all having an official or unofficial children’s menu.* Plus, there was a natural kindness and patience with children that is less the norm here — you know when you’re waiting for the check and everyone is tired and your kid is about to scream their head off on your shoulder and then they start giggling because a stranger behind you is making faces at them? That was every day.
This means we got to try much more of the local food, which, perhaps predictably, means we fell in love with piri piri chicken, a celebration of the pepper (also known as an African bird’s eye chili), grown all over southern Africa and Portugal, after which it is named, but blended into a punchy marinade that keeps the heat at bay. I couldn’t wait to try my hand at it when we got home except I quickly realized that no two people from Ghana to Goa seem to agree on what is in it. I saw ingredients from basil to ginger, tomatoes and sweet peppers, thyme and oregano, and then barebones recipes that were basically just chiles, garlic and bay leaves and depressing ones that called for a bottle of piri piri sauce. Where does a hungry cook begin?
I ended up distilling the recipes I found to the ingredients that were the most common and closest to the kicky-sour-herbed chicken I fell in love with, blending them into a paste that I fiddled with until I was happy. I figured it would take a few rounds to get it right but instead, we adored this mix so much that happily skipped pizza at the park with kids to eat it cold after they went to bed. I cannot promise you that this is the most authentic piri piri you’ll ever eat — I’m hardly an expert — but I know this is going to be my go-to: The ingredients are simple. The heat level is adjustable to taste. You can use a whole chicken or parts. You can grill or roast it. You can make it tonight.
* I know there are people who rail against them, but I would write a love letter to children’s menus if I could: nothing makes me happier than not having to buy a $23 entree for a kid who will eat 15% but might have eaten 33% if it had two fewer sauces/ingredients on the plate.
One year ago: Caponata
Two years ago: Chocolate and Toasted Hazelnut Milk
Three years ago: Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage
Four years ago: Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella
Five years ago: Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes and Mint
Six years ago: Peach Shortbread and Grape Focaccia with Rosemary
Seven years ago: Corn Bread Salad and Chocolate Pudding Pie
Eight years ago: The Baked Brownie, Spiced Up
Nine years ago: Hoisin Barbecue Sauce, Lemon Layer Cake and Tortilla De Patatas
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Nolita-Style Avocado Toast
1.5 Years Ago: Red Bean and Green Grain Taco Bowl and Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie
2.5 Years Ago: Kale and Quinoa Salad with Ricotta Salata and Broccoli Cheddar and Wild Rice Casserole
3.5 Years Ago: My Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits
4.5 Years Ago: Multigrain Apple Crisps
Piri Piri Chicken
For the tomato salad: Cut 2 to 3 large tomatoes into wedges, scattered some thin slices of white onion over and season the plate well with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and some parsley; let it sit for a bit to marinate before digging in.
For the potatoes: Peel if you wish about 1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes and cut them into 1/4-inch slices. Toss with olive oil and salt and spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet in one layer, roasting them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes on the first side and 10 minutes on the second, until golden all over.
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/2 a large or 1 small shallot, peeled, roughly chopped
- 1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeded, roughly chopped
- 1 piri piri, bird’s eye or other small red chili pepper, chopped, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley or cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
- 1 teaspoon paprika (I used smoked, regular is fine)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- Most of the finely grated zest and all of the juice of 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for grill grates
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 3 1/2 pound chicken or 3 1/4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts
In a food processor or blender, combine garlic, shallot, bell pepper, chili, 1/4 cup parsley, paprika, oregano, lemon zest and juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt and blend until as smooth as possible.
To spatchcock (remove the backbone from) your chicken: Place on a cutting board and use kitchen shears to cut along each side of the backbone, removing it and saving it for a future post of soup. [Here’s the shortest video I could find demonstrating this.] Open the chicken like a book, flattening it out. Place in a large dish.
Pour about 1/3 marinade over inside of chicken, the flip and pour another 1/3 over the outside. Set aside the last 1/3 for serving. Let the chicken marinate for as long as you have to spare; 20 minutes at room temperature or a few hours (or even a day) in the fridge.
If using chicken pieces, marinate them as well in a big dish with 2/3 of the sauce.
Heat a grill over medium high. Oil the grill grates. Place spatchcocked chicken skin side down on grill, spoon on some marinade that landed in the pan, cook for about 15 minutes, until it is nicely charred underneath. Use large tongs to flip it, pour or spoon any extra marinade over the skin and cook for another 15 to 25 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into thicker parts of the bird reads 165°F. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting into pieces.
For chicken pieces, you’ll only need about 10 minutes per side, depending on size.
No grill? In the oven, I usually roast spatchcocked chickens at 450°F for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into thicker parts of the bird reads 165°F. Chicken pieces are usually done in 30 to 35.
Garnish with extra herbs and serve with remaining sauce on the side.