Peri Peri Chicken

Make your favorite Nando’s Inspired Peri Peri Chicken at home in this easy, unabashedly flavorful recipe!

Peri Peri Chicken is a must-try recipe for the spicy food lovers! With roots in African and Portuguese culture, Peri Peri Chicken is taking the world by storm with its garlicky, sweet, spicy, lemony, tangy mesmerizing flavors.  But don’t let the word spicy scare you, since you’re making your own recipe, you can make it as fiery hot or as mildly spicy as you like!  This recipe takes just 15 minutes of hands-on prep to make the sauce, then just marinate the chicken and get excited about firing up the grill or oven!   Serve this spicy chicken with coconut rice, grilled corn on the cob and tomato cucumber salad to complete the epic feast.

Chicken doesn’t have to boring with these boldly flavored chicken marinades: honey sriracha chicken, harissa chicken, chicken shawarma, doner kebabs, buffalo chicken, chipotle chicken, spicy Korean chicken, jerk chicken, and Greek chicken.

HOW TO MAKE Peri Peri Chicken VIDEo

top view of peri peri chicken recipe (piri piri chicken) showing the grill charred grill marks

peri peri chicken recipe (piri piri chicken) stacked on a serving platter with a side of peri peri sauce

Peri Peri Chicken Ingredients

Peri Peri Chicken is extra easy to make because the Peri Peri Sauce doubles as both the marinade and the finishing sauce – winning!  The ingredients are detailed below with some ingredient swaps in the next section in case you can’t get your hands on everything listed (full recipe measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Chicken: I recommend using bone-in chicken.  You can use thighs, drumsticks, leg quarters, etc. and adjust the cooking time as needed.  Bone-in cuts of chicken stand up against the bold Peri Peri Sauce, are able to marinate longer and remain juicier than boneless cuts.
  • Chilies: Peri Peri Sauce is traditionally made from African bird’s eye chilies, however, those chilies are virtually impossible to come by in the states.  The next best substitute is fresh Thai red chilis, also called bird’s eye or bird pepper.  This is the cousin to African bird’s eye chilies that’s popular across Southeast Asia and easy to find at your local Asian market.  Thai chili peppers typically range from 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which is, on average, 15 times hotter than a jalapeno pepper (which ranges from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units)!
  • Red bell peppers: You’ll need two large peppers for this recipe. The bell peppers are roasted before being blended into the sauce/marinade, adding a winning, subtle, balancing sweetness.
  • Olive oil: This dissolves fat-soluble flavor compounds from the marinade and injects it into the chicken.  It also adds moisture and helps produce tender, juicy chicken. You can use extra virgin olive oil for a stronger flavor, regular for a milder flavor, or a blend of the two depending on your personal preference.
  • Red onion:  Please use only a red onion or sweet onion to help balance the chili peppers.  The sweetness of the onion is further enhanced by sautéing it with the garlic.  
  • Garlic: Look for plump fresh garlic for optimal flavor. You don’t need to mince the garlic, just peel and crush the cloves before sautéing.  They will be minced in the blender.
  • Red wine vinegar: Please use only red wine vinegar and do not substitute with white, especially because there is a significant amount of it! Its fruity tanginess really makes the sauce sing.
  • Lemons:  Lemon juice and lemon zest add the bright pop of sour citrus to cut through the heat.  Use fresh lemon juice for the best flavor but bottled may be used. Just note that you’ll also need lemon zest for this recipe, so you may as well use the entire lemon! 
  • Fresh cilantro: This herb isn’t traditionally found in Peri Peri Chicken, so you can omit it if desired, however, I love the zesty, citrusy notes of dimension it adds.
  • Bay leaves: The humble bay leaf is both floral, herbal and earthy and is key to rounding out the complex flavor of the Peri Peri Sauce.  
  • Smoked paprika: This spice is rich, mild, sweet, and smoky made from smoked pimento peppers dried over oak fires then crushed.  It is not spicy, just flavorful.  Please used smoked paprika and not regular paprika or you’ll be missing that smoky dimension.
  • Oregano: You are welcome to use fresh or dried – but dried is actually more authentic! 
  • Smoked paprika: regular paprika can be used in a pinch, but you’ll be missing that extra dimension of smokiness.
  • Lemon juice: bottled can be substituted for fresh – but you still need the lemon zest!
  • Cilantro: can be omitted, if desired or try adding 1 teaspoon ground coriander.
  • Vinegar:  apple cider vinegar is the best substitute for red wine vinegar if you must.
  • Thai red chilis: see the section on chili peppers for my suggestions. 
up closer of peri peri chicken recipe made with bone in chicken thighs
  • Habanero chili peppers: 100,000 to 350,000 SHU, which means they are 2-6 times hotter than Thai chili peppers, so use sparingly!  You will need 1-2 for this recipe.
  • Cayenne peppers: 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, which means they are, on average, half as spicy as Thai chili peppers – so use roughly double the amount.
  • Serrano peppers: 10,000 to 23,000 SHU, which means they are, on average, ⅕ as spicy than Thai chili peppers – so use roughly 5 times the amount.
  • Jalapeno pepper: 2,500 to 8,000 SHU, which means they are, on average, 1/15 as spicy as Thai chili peppers – so you’ll need a ton!
  • Red pepper flakes or ground cayenne pepper: Can be added to taste. If possible, substitute the Thai red chilis with another fresh chili pepper rather than dried chili flakes. 

How to Make Peri Peri Chicken 

Making Peri Peri Chicken is as easy as preparing the sauce/marinade and then letting it work its magic on your favorite cut of chicken! Here’s an overview of how to make this Peri Peri Chicken recipe (full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post): 

Make the Peri Peri SAuce: 

  • Roast the bell peppers. You can do this by either rotating them over the open flame of your gas stovetop or you can broil them in the oven.
showing how to make peri peri chicken by making peri peri sauce by broiling the red bell peppers
  • Sauté the aromatics. Heat just 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet, then sauté the onion, garlic and paprika until the onions are softened.   
showing how to make peri peri chicken by making peri peri sauce by sautéing the onions, garlic, paprika and bay leaves
  • Blend up the sauce. Add all the ingredients to a blender, including the onion mixture and the roasted bell peppers. However, do NOT add the rest of the olive oil yet. Adding the oil at this stage would result in a bitter sauce. 
showing how to make peri peri chicken by making peri peri sauce by adding bird's eye chili peppers, bell peppers, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, lemon zest, cilantro, oregano to the blender
  • Add the oil. Once the ingredients are blended, add the olive oil bit by bit until the sauce reaches your desired consistency (you can keep it chunkier or make it completely smooth). 
showing how to make peri peri chicken by making peri peri sauce by streaming the olive oil into the blender
  • Adjust to taste. The sauce should be well balanced with a good kick of spice and sourness from the lemon and vinegar.

Marinate the Chicken 

  • Add the chicken to a freezer bag or shallow dish. 
  • Pour half of the sauce over the chicken and turn to coat. You want the chicken to be evenly covered in the Peri Peri Sauce. 
  • Marinate for at least 2 hours, but overnight is preferred. 
showing how to make peri peri chicken by making peri peri sauce by marinating the chicken in the peri peri sauce
showing how to make peri peri chicken by grilling the chicken
up close of peri peri chicken (piri piri chicken) on a serving platter garnished by cilantro
  • If baking the chicken: Consider adding 2 teaspoons of mesquite liquid smoke to the marinade for that smoky flavor the grill adds. 
  • Don’t skip sautéing the aromatics.  Sautéing the onions, garlic, bay leaves, paprika, etc. creates a caramelized sweetness to offset the heat that can’t be achieved any other way.
  • Watch the olive oil. Different olive oils have different flavors and strengths.  Choose what you like best.
  • Don’t over-process the olive oil. Only pulse the oil a few times in order to combine the sauce. If you over-process the oil, its polyphenols can break away from the fatty acids causing oxidation, which will make the Peri Peri Sauce taste bitter. If you’re worried about this, you may stir the olive oil in by hand.
  • Adjust the heat level.  When you remove the seeds from the chili peppers, don’t toss them!  You can add seeds back to the sauce for additional heat. You can also add red pepper flakes if desired.  
  • Plan to marinate the chicken overnight. The most flavorful chicken is dark meat marinated for up to 24 hours. That being said, don’t marinate chicken breasts longer than 12 hours.
  • Use dark meat. Skip the chicken breasts and use rich, juicy chicken thighs and/or drumsticks, which can stand up to the robust marinade.
  • Don’t like chicken skin? Remove it! I always remove the chicken skin before I marinate the chicken. This creates extra flavorful chicken because the marinade can really penetrate the meat and I personally like the taste better. At the end of the day, it’s totally your call.
  • Don’t overcook the chicken!  Overcooked chicken is dry chicken. Every grill cooks a little differently, so I highly recommend investing in a meat thermometer, otherwise there is no accurate way to check and see when your chicken is cooked without slicing it open and losing valuable juices. You can pick up an inexpensive instant read thermometer at any grocery store or Amazon, or I’m obsessed with my digital meat probe thermometer. You stick the probe in the chicken (or any protein) and can set an alert for the temperature, walk away and it will beep when ready! You’ll never overcook chicken again!
  • Let the chicken rest after cooking. After the chicken is finished cooking, transfer it to a cutting board and let rest 5-10 minutes before biting into it so the meat has time to reabsorb the juices that have pushed towards the outside of the chicken. If you cut into the chicken immediately after cooking, valuable, moisture-giving juices will run out.
  • Prep the grill for that caramelized crust. Clean the grill very well before cooking for beautiful grill marks and to prevent sticking. Don’t add the chicken until the grill is hot to achieve a beautiful sear, then only flip/touch your chicken once for the perfect caramelized crust.
up close of peri peri chicken recipe (piri piri chicken) on a plate marinated in peri peri sauce
  • Swap the citrus. Add lime juice in place of the lemon juice for a different flavor profile.
  • Use bottled smoked red peppers.   Instead of smoking the red bell peppers yourself, simply pick up a jar.  
  • Customize the spice level. In most regions, Peri Peri sauce is meant to be spicy but you can customize the heat by using more mild chili peppers like jalapenos or less chili peppers.  Alternatively, you can really crank up the heat by adding additional chili peppers or using hotter peppers like habaneros. 
  • More or less garlic. If you like more of a garlic forward Peri Peri sauce recipe, use 6 garlic cloves. If you like milder garlic, start with 4 cloves.  
  • Customize consistency. Add more or less olive oil depending on how thick or thin you prefer your Peri Peri Sauce. If you would like additional olive oil, stir it in, rather than blend it to avoid bitter over-oxidation.
  • Season to taste. You may prefer a more garlicky sauce, a tangier sauce, or spicier sauce.  You also may need to season the chicken with freshly cracked salt.
  • Add other herbs/spices. I like to add cilantro to my Peri Peri Chicken, but feel free to omit if desired or add different herbs/aromatics such as basil, parsley, mint, ginger, etc. 
brushing grilled peri peri chicken (piri piri chicken) with peri peri sauce after it's cooked

FAQs About Peri Peri Chicken 

Can I use chicken breasts for Peri Peri Chicken? 

Yes, technically you can make Peri Peri Chicken using chicken breasts, but there is a reason the recipe is made with dark meat. It’s more flavorful, tender and can be marinated for longer, resulting in a superior end result. You also won’t achieve that signature charred crust and blackened crispy bits using chicken breasts. The milder chicken breast meat also doesn’t hold up to the dynamically spicy marinade as well.

If you choose to use chicken breasts, take care to pound the breasts to an even thickness before marinating. Only marinate chicken breasts for up to 12 hours because the meat is more likely to break down and become mushy if over-marinated.

What does “Peri Peri” mean? 

Peri peri translates to “pepper pepper” in Swahili. 

Is Peri Peri the same as Piri Piri?

Yes!  “Piri piri sauce,” “peri peri sauce” and even “pili pili sauce” are all variations of the name for the spicy Portuguese sauce.

What does Peri Peri Chicken taste like? 

Peri Peri Chicken is a multifaceted sauce that is famous for a reason! It is a spicy from the chilies, tangy from the red wine vinegar, slightly sour from the lemon juice, smoky from the charred bell peppers, smoked paprika and grilling with a touch of sweetness from the sautéed onions and red bell peppers.

Is Peri Peri Chicken spicy? 

Yes, Peri Peri Chicken is quite spicy with complex smoky, tangy, sweet and sour notes. For the traditional heat level, use 6-8 Thai red chilis in the Peri Peri Sauce, or for less spicy, simply use fewer peppers or a less spicy pepper.  You can also customize the heat level by brushing less (or omitting altogether) Peri Peri Sauce after the chicken is cooked.  

What chicken do you use to make Nando’s Peri Peri Chicken?

You can make Peri Peri Chicken using any cut of chicken, but I recommend bone in chicken such as thighs, drumsticks or leg quarters.  A whole chicken is also commonly cooked.  Cooking times will vary depending on what cut of chicken you choose, so always use a meat thermometer to ensure your chicken is properly cooked.

Do you have to marinate Peri Peri Chicken first?

You can certainly just use the Peri Peri Sauce and slather it over some cooked chicken and call it dinner, but to earn the coveted title “Peri Peri Chicken,” the chicken should also be marinated in some of the sauce. The longer you marinate the chicken, the more full-flavored it will taste.

How long should I marinate Peri Peri Chicken legs / thighs? 

For maximum benefit, marinate the chicken legs and thighs for at least 2 hours, and up to 24 hours. Don’t marinate longer than that because the acid in the marinade can break down the muscle fibers too much and make your chicken mushy.

Should I poke holes in chicken before marinating It? 

No, you should NOT poke holes in the chicken before marinating. This is an old wives’ tale and actually drains out the valuable juices while the chicken cooks and will result in less juicy chicken. You can cut slits in thick pieces of chicken, like chicken legs, to reach deeper into the protein, but never holes.

Is Peri Peri Chicken gluten free?

Yes, the recipe as written is gluten free.

How long do you cook Peri Peri Chicken for?

The cooking time will depend on which cut of chicken you use and what method of cooking.  Grilled bone-in chicken thighs will take about 10-15 minutes, baked bone-in chicken thighs will take approximately, 35-45 minutes (depending on thickness), until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F.

Can you double this homemade Nando’s recipe?

Yes, you can easily double this recipe, just hover over the servings and use the sliding scale to increase or decrease and the measurements will automatically change in the recipe card.

Is Peri-Peri healthy?

Yes, Peri Peri Chicken is chock full of protein and loads of vitamins A, B, C, and Niacin which help to promote good eyesight, strengthen the immune system, lessen the risk of cognitive disorder, and much more.

How do you know when Peri Peri chicken is cooked?

The best way to ensure that it is cooked through is to use an instant-read meat thermometer.  Dark meat is cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 170 and allowed to rest 5 minutes; light meat is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 160 and allowed to rest 5 minutes.

peri peri chicken recipe (piri piri chicken) brushed with peri peri sauce sliced on a plate showing how juicy it is

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peri peri chicken recipe (piri piri chicken) stacked on a serving platter with a side of peri peri sauce

Peri Peri Chicken

African and Portuguese culture, Peri Peri Chicken is taking the world by storm with its garlicky, sweet, spicy, lemony, tangy mesmerizing flavors.  But don't let the word spicy scare you, since you’re making your own recipe, you can make it as fiery hot or as mildly spicy as you like!  This recipe takes just 10 minutes of hands-on prep to make the sauce, then just marinate the chicken and get excited about firing up the grill or oven!   Serve this spicy chicken with coconut rice, grilled corn on the cob and tomato cucumber salad to complete the epic feast.
Servings: 8 -10 servings
Total Time: 12 hrs
Prep Time: 10 mins

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Ingredients

CHICKEN

  • 2 ½-3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs

PERI PERI SAUCE/MARINADE

Add Later

Instructions

  • Roast the bell peppers: Rotate the peppers over the open flame of your gas stovetop, turning with tongs until blackened all over OR broil 4-6 inches away from the heat source. To broil, deseed and cut the bell peppers in quarters and place them skin side up on a foil lined baking sheet. Press them flat with your hand. Broil until they're blackened all over, 5 to 10 minutes. watching carefully and roating the pan as needed.
  • Sauté the aromatics:  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet.  Add the onion, garlic and smoked paprika; sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until the onions are softened.   
  • Blend:  Add all of the ingredients to a blender up to the olive oil (including the onion mixture and roasted bell peppers).  Blend to a smooth sauce or leave it a chunkier consistency. Stream in the olive oil  just to combine.
  • Adjust to taste:  The sauce should be a balance of fiery heat, sourness, saltiness and tanginess. Add additional chili seeds or red pepper flakes for spicier, vinegar for tangier, lemon juice for more sour.
  • Marinate: Add the chicken to a freezer bag or shallow dish. Pour half of the sauce over the chicken and turn to coat. Marinate for 2-24 hours (the longer the better).
  • Cook: The below baking and grilling instructions are for bone-in chicken thighs – adjust cooking time as needed for different cuts.

TO BAKE:

  • If you choose to cook the chicken in the oven, consider adding 2 teaspoons mesquite liquid smoke to the marinade for that smoky flavor.
  • Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Line the chicken in a single layer so the pieces aren't touching. Bake at 400 degrees F for 35-45 minutes (depending on thickness), until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, then allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  • Brush cooked chicken with desired amount of reserved Peri Peri Sauce (that never touched the raw chicken) and garnish with fresh herbs if desired. Note – the more sauce you add, the spicier the chicken!

TO GRILL:

  • Preheat the grill to medium-high heat, 425-450°F with the lid closed, clean and grease grates with vegetable oil.
  • Grill chicken skin side down first (if leaving on). Grill for 5-7 minutes per side with the lid CLOSED, or until chicken is cooked through and reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. Adjust the temperature if the chicken is browning too quickly. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.
  • Brush cooked chicken with desired amount of reserved Peri Peri Sauce (that never touched the raw chicken) and garnish with fresh herbs if desired. Note – the more sauce you add, the spicier the chicken!

Video

Notes

Note:  This recipe as written is very spicy.  To make it less spicy, use less chili peppers or different chili peppers, then add chili seeds or red pepper flakes to taste.

Thai Chili Pepper Substitute

  • Dried Thai Chili Peppers: You may use dried Thai chili peppers in the Peri Peri Sauce, but be aware dried peppers tend to be hotter than fresh because they are fully mature when dried and therefore contain very high capsaicin concentration/are at maximum heat when they are dehydrated, SO I suggest using a few less. To use, simply slice them open and remove the seeds, then rehydrate by soaking in boiling hot water for about 15-20 minutes, or until soft enough to blend.
  • Habanero chili peppers: 100,000 to 350,000 SHU, which means they are 2-6 times hotter than Thai chili peppers, so use sparingly!  You will need 1-2 for this recipe.
  • Cayenne peppers: 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, which means they are, on average, half as spicy as Thai chili peppers – so use roughly double the amount.
  • Serrano peppers: 10,000 to 23,000 SHU, which means they are, on average, ⅕ as spicy than Thai chili peppers – so use roughly 5 times the amount.
  • Jalapeno pepper: 2,500 to 8,000 SHU, which means they are, on average, 1/15 as spicy as Thai chili peppers – so you’ll need a ton.
  • Red pepper flakes or ground cayenne pepper: Can be added to taste.

To store and reheat

  • Storage: Store cooked chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
    Reheat: Reheat in a skillet over medium-low heat until warmed through,  in the microwave at 30-second intervals, or in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or just until warmed through.
  • To freeze chicken in marinade: Add the chicken to the marinade and freeze for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to use, the chicken will marinate as you thaw the chicken in the refrigerator.
  • To freeze cooked chicken: Let chicken cool completely, then transfer it to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. Freeze for 2 to 3 months then let thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

Prep Ahead

  • Bell peppers: Can be roasted and then refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.
  • Aromatics: Can be sautéed and stored alongside the bell peppers up to 3 days in advance.
  • Sauce/Marinade: Can be made up to 1 week in advance (without the chicken).
  • Chicken: Can be left in the marinade for up to 24 hours if dark meat, 12 hours if chicken breasts. Or, cook and then refrigerate the chicken for up to 5 days in the fridge.  

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