My grandmother’s Portuguese Piri Piri Chicken Recipe will add some authentic Portuguese fiery flavour to your Sunday lunch.  It’s finger licking good, and a great way to bring all the family together. Believe me, we have done it for over 50 years. All courtesy of Maria de Jesus (Mary of Jesus) my grandmother from my father’s side, and the woman behind my undisputed love for  food, for Traditional Portuguese Food.

Piri Piri Chicken Recipe Nelson Carvalheiro-2Growing up in a self-sustaining own production farm in the Center of Portugal, we grew almost everything we ate. The fertility of the soil in our lands assured that all fruits and vegetables grew without needing fertilizers or any kind odd additives. The same goes for the livestock we had, and that my grandmother cared for in such a dear motherly way. Chickens, pigs, ducks, rabbits, geese and the occasional pheasant were fed from we had planted according to the season. We were raised not to trust the produce that was sold in the shops, and the only time we bought things for the house was during  the Sunday trip to the Marinha das Ondas farmer’s market.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_Portuguese_Piri_Piri_Chicken_Recipe (7)

Every Sunday my grandmother would get up early as if it was a normal workday. Taking the little doggies with her, she would head over to the chicken hut. “You and you…Come with me” she said to the two roosters whose fate had been written the moment they were born on the Carvalheiro farm. Without any fear of the desperate wing flapping or even the constant bite attempts, she grabs both birds by the feet I will spare you the details, but soon after, the chickens were ready for the charcoal grill.

What I am trying to say, my grandmother’s Portuguese Piri Piri Chicken Recipe does not work if you are using mass-produced poultry. Neither if you use anything other than organic produce. Also, if you are in a rush and are looking for a “30 min pop it in the over Piri Piri Chicken”, this recipe is not for you. However, if you have time and respect for the institution of Food, then please read onwards.

Get a fat, free range chicken

I cannot stress enough how important it is to use a free-range, corn and vegetable fed chicken. There is no substitute for the happiness the bird had from eating all those yummy vegetable and roaming freely in the open fields. Supermarket chickens are filled with chemicals and have water injected into them. They are not just going to taste bland, they are bad for your health.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_Portuguese_Piri_Piri_Chicken_Recipe (5)Charcoal Grilling takes time

No Portuguese Piri Piri chicken recipe can be made without using charcoal to grill the chicken. We have been grilling Piri Piri Chicken since we introduced the world to chillies from central America in the 15th century. Any other recipe that requires frying, braising or oven roasting is a fake. The chicken is supposed to the grilled in whole so it takes time of the heat released by the charcoal to render the fat and penetrate the skin. I am fully aware that not all of you have a balcony or even a barbecue, let alone the time. But believe me, it will pay off in every single level if you take the time to do it.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_Portuguese_Piri_Piri_Chicken_Recipe (1)Don’t add unnecessary ingredients

This recipe keeps faithful to its Portuguese origins. It does not take chilies in powder, dry or flake form. Neither lemon, oregano, peppers, caster sugar, coriander or ginger. It does not need food processors or any other fancy kitchen equipment. Just keep it simple and the natural flavour of the meat the chillies do their work. Also, this is not a Mexican dish and certainly doesn’t need one, let alone two salsas Mr. Jamie Oliver. Have some respect, please!

Piri Piri Sauce

The Piri Piri sauce for the chicken is different from the Piri Piri Oil recipe, as it is the heat from the charcoal and the hot chicken which will release the flavours of the ingredients.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_Piri_Piri_Oil-1-7What is the secret of this Portuguese Piri Piri chicken recipe

Unlike other recipes, my grandmother’s Portuguese Piri Piri Chicken does not require overnight marinades. It is the last minute basting of the Piri Piri sauce we just made, which is going to give the flavour to the meat. Because the sauce has garlic, it should only be added when the chicken is almost done or else you will get that burnt garlic bitter taste. Also, the slow roasting over the charcoal will promote the slow release of the bone marrow juices into the chicken meat contributing the final overall flavour. So, make a Sunday family feast of this recipe and don’t forget to eat the chicken with your hands, the way it was meant to be eaten.

Portuguese Piri Piri Chicken Recipe Ingredients

  • 1 large free-range chicken (about 1.5 kg) split in half
  • rough Sea Salt

For the Piri Piri Sauce

  • 100 ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • 3 fresh red chillies (diced) (put more if you wish it to be spicier)
  • 3 large bay leaves
  • Teaspoon of paprika
  • Large bunch of parsley (to be used as brush)

Portuguese Piri Piri Chicken Recipe Preparation

For the Chicken:

Let the chicken rest on the counter for at least 30/40 min so the meat reaches room temperature. Half it – you can also chop it into 4 large pieces – legs + thighs, breast, and wings, but never take anything off the bone. Season the chicken with salt and make the Piri Piri Sauce.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_Portuguese_Piri_Piri_Chicken_Recipe (2)Nelson_Carvalheiro_Portuguese_Piri_Piri_Chicken_Recipe (4)Piri Piri Sauce Preparation

Add the olive oil, crushed garlic, chillies, paprika and bay leaves to bowl. Wisk so all the ingredients are evenly spread. Let it rest for a bit while the chicken roasts.

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Nelson_Carvalheiro_Portuguese_Piri_Piri_Chicken_Recipe (8)Grilling the chicken

Fire up the barbecue using only charcoal from a wood origin, not coal from the mines. Also never use a petroleum-based igniter, as you will end up with the chicken tasting of paint thinner. Only add the chicken when the embers are over their peak heat and are starting to go grey on the outside.

Nelson_Carvalheiro_Portuguese_Piri_Piri_Chicken_Recipe (10)Start with the skin side up on the edge of the grill so you don’t burn the skin.  Let the chicken cook. Don’t mess with it. Don’t flip it back and forth. Just let it go. When you can see a nice golden brown colour on the edge of the skin, gently slide the spatula or thongs under and turn it over. Remember to keep the chicken high above the burning coal so that any flames from the dripping fat don’t burn the skin. Be sure to put out any flare-ups immediately. Allow about 15 to 20 minutes for each side of the chicken, depending on how young (tender) the meat is.

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When you notice the meat starting to peel off the bone, it means the chicken is almost ready. Dip the bunch of parsley into the Piri Piri Sauce and baste generously on the dry chicken skin. Keep basting for about 5 minutes depending on the size and thickness of the chicken.

Then give it one last grill on the skin side to crispen it up.



I would like to thank Benerent and their CEO Nuno Luz for their outstanding car rental services every time I am in Portugal and allowing me to travel the country to tell these candid Portuguese Food Stories. 

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Nelson Carvalheiro

I am just a guy with a camera, trying to make sense of it all...

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I am an award-winning filmmaker and content creator that loves to create meaningful and inspiring films uniquely tailored for each client and their story. I am based in Lisbon and travel to destinations worldwide.
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