A Short Treatise on Piri Piri

Let’s clear up one thing about how to spell this, now famous, Portuguese colonial hot pepper, sauce and marinade. It is not spelt peri peri (take note Nando’s, Tesco, M&S and some others); it is spelt piri piri. Because as any fule kno, it is pronounced in English and Portuguese “pirry-pirry” not “perry-perry”. There are countless bottled insults in piri piri’s name. Piri piri has no place in, or near, burgers or fried chicken. Nice to get that off my chest.

When, in the 16C, the Portuguese navigated themselves around Africa (to find the source of the Venetian spice trade from India and further east, which they then comprehensively monopolised, and so becoming the richest country in Europe for the next hundred years) they encountered these fierce little chillies of the same name in what became the colonies of Angola and Moçambique; and it is a little known fact that it was the Portuguese who introduced Indians to chillies.

True piri piri peppers are of the brightest scarlet, are no more than 2cm long, and are cone-shaped and chubby; they are very hot but have a unique deep flavour. Normally used fresh rather than dried but when split, salted and stored in a jar for some months they develop the most profound flavour which is how I like to use them for a table sauce and for adding zip to soups and the like. They are really easy to find in Portuguese markets during the summer so I’m always returning with a kg or two, but as they are really difficult to find at any time in London, a good approximation would be to use a mix (an equal count of each) of small red “bird’s eye chillies and long dark red chillies that are in all supermarkets.

- David