We had been in Portugal less than 48 hours when I discovered a new favorite food: anything flavored with the Portuguese spice, piri-piri (also known as “peri-peri”).  Like my daughter Kate, when I find something I love, I eat it constantly until I get tired of it, so my husband (the Chef) is now whipping up piri-piri chicken, pork, seafood, soups — you name it — on a regular basis.

What is piri-piri or peri-peri?  It is a pepper (the word means “pepper-pepper” in Swahili) that grows in the wild throughout Africa.  Columbus brought the first piri-piri seeds to what is now known as the Algarve region in southern Portugal.  These seeds were carried by Portuguese traders to their colonies in Africa.  Eventually, the peppers made their way back to Portugal where they became a staple of Portuguese cooking.   In Portugal, piri-piri goes in — and on — just about everything.

I have no idea whether true piri-piri peppers can be purchased in the U.S., but I’ve seen several recipes that call for thai chili-peppers as a substitute.  Alternatively, you could try some of the pre-made options available on the internet.  To make your own piri-piri base, mix some crushed chillies with parika, salt, oregano, garlic and about one cup of olive oil (you have to store in the refrigerator for about a week before you use it).  You can also experiment with adding citrus peel, onion, pepper, bay leaves, pimiento or basil.

My husband likes to add a little cream and cilantro to his piri-piri concoctions.  Here is his recipe for a creamy piri-piri to go over chicken or pork:

3 ounces of picante (hottest) piri-piri sauce (liquid form; see the instructions above on creating your own piri-piri base or purchase pre-made)

3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 ounce of heavy cream (half-and-half will do, as well)
1/2 teaspoon each of the following dried/granular spices:
  — garlic powder
  — hot paprika (cayenne is OK instead)
  — oregano
  — thyme (herbs de Provence is OK instead)
A generous pinch of good sea-salt
4-5 generous grinds of good black pepper
1 tablespoon of cooking wine (red is OK; white is better)
1/2 teaspoon of red wine vinegar (lemon juice is also OK)
A handful of fresh cilantro leaves, finely minced
Mix all ingredients but the cilantro in a small bowl, using a fork.  Add the cilantro just before bringing the sauce to the table for serving.
(This makes enough sauce for meat at a dinner for 4 people.)

Piri-piri is fabulous on grilled chicken or roasted pork, but it can also be used to spice up a soup (Caldo Verde, the Portuguese soup made with chorizo sausage, is often spiked with piri-piri).  It is also commonly used as a base for the tapa served in bars and cafes here.

So far, Portugal gets an A+ on the Eat part of the Eat Sweat Seek rating system.  :)



  1. Frankie says

    Oh my gosh — I wish I could get hold of those! Nothing I can find in the U.S. tastes like the peppers we used to eat in Cameroun. They were so hot that if I touched them without gloves on my fingers would burn for hours. And yet many of the local people munched on them like grapes.

    • Nan Dawkins says

      I just happen to have one unopened bottle of concentrate — it has your name on it. I’ll be back in Florida in November and will save it for you until I see you!

  2. Mary Rhudy says

    I wish I could find a reliable source of piri piri seeds! I keep trying to order them from amazon, but they never come. This sauce looks fabulous, and I bet if you ate it when you were sick it would sweat the bug right out of you! I wonder how it would work if you did the base with vinegar instead of olive oil if you could put it up in jars in large batches. A bit of summer peppers at any time of year.


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