One of the nicer things about this column is that I get the opportunity to cook things I wouldn’t normally cook.
I had heard about this thing – piri piri chicken – that has a reputation in this country built on the strength of a particular fast-food chain. Rhymes with Sylvester Stallone’s most subtle screen creation.
I am no longer on the hunt for things to eat on the walk home at 2am, but I am on the hunt for things to put on my barbecue. So here we are.
My exploration and research for this dish took me to a place quite unlike the Portuguese original, based on spices from Africa.
After reading various recipes, I decided to cook the chillies, garlic and aromatics and grind them to a paste before folding through fresh tomatoes, instead of cooking the whole lot together. The sauce itself ends up not as a sauce but a spicy tomato salad.
Having established that flavour profile, I went back to the chicken. There were various recipes for rubs and marinades. I ended up marinating the chicken in a brine, which I think is pretty much the best thing you can do to a chicken prior to cooking. The brine cures the chicken a little bit, and is a great vehicle for introducing flavours. It also makes for a moister chicken when cooked.
I’ve taken the flavours of piri piri – especially the smokiness of the paprika – and allowed the chicken to take it on without it being a sauce per se.
At this point, when it comes to brines and brining chicken, I would encourage you to take the salt-to-liquid ratio and experiment with your own aromatics. In the past, I’ve added the zest of two lemons and a few tablespoons of fresh rosemary and garlic for a more Mediterranean feel. Equally, you could throw in five-spice, mandarin zest and fresh ginger for a Chinese-style preparation.
The brining of the bird should take a minimum of six hours and absolutely no more than 24. Beyond that, you go from prepared to neglectful. I also think it’s best to cook the bird almost as soon as you remove it from the brine.
I don’t know how Rambo makes his chicken, but this has been surprisingly delicious and is something I’ll return to this summer. My next challenge is a two all-beef patty preparation from a rival chain.
Piri piri chicken
– 1 large chicken
– zest 1 lemon
– 2 tbsp lemon juice
– 2 tbsp brandy
– 2 tbsp sea salt
– 1 tbsp sugar
– 1 tbsp peppercorns
– 1 tbsp sweet paprika
– 2 cloves garlic, sliced
– 250ml water
– 250ml dry white wine
Whisk all the brine ingredients together in a large bowl until the salt and sugar have dissolved.
Remove the wing tips from the chicken wings and cut the chicken into quarters. Your butcher can do this for you if you prefer. Submerge the chicken pieces in the brine and place in the fridge for no less than six hours but no more than 24 hours. When the brining is complete, remove the chicken from the liquid and pat it dry. Discard the used brine.
Once out of the brine the chicken can be held in the fridge until you are ready to cook it. Brush the chicken with a little oil before grilling it on a hot barbecue or roasting it in the oven.
Serve the chicken alongside the tomato and chilli salad (recipe below).
Tomato and chilli salad
– 10 mild, long red chillies
– 1 tsp oil
– 4 cloves garlic, diced
– 2 red shallots, diced
– 100ml extra virgin olive oil
– 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
– 1 pinch sugar
– 1 tsp salt
– 1 tsp sweet paprika
– 2 large, super ripe tomatoes
Toss the chillies around with a teaspoon of oil. Preheat a barbecue and grill the chillies until they blister a bit and the skin starts to come away easily. Take the chillies from the grill and leave them until they are cool enough to handle. Peel the skin off the chillies and scrape out the seeds. Chop the red flesh and set it aside.
In a small saucepan, gently cook the garlic and shallots with half of the olive oil. When they are soft and aromatic add the chopped chillies, vinegar, sugar, salt and paprika. Continue cooking over a low heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture reduces to a paste. Using a mortar and pestle pound to a finer paste. Alternatively, puree the chilli paste in a small blender. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir through the remaining oil. Slice the tomatoes into wedges and toss through the chilli paste. Leave the saucy tomatoes at room temperature to marinate as you cook the chicken.
2015 Shadowfax Minnow cinsault blend, Geelong ($25) – Liam O’Brien, head sommelier, Cutler & Co.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 17, 2016 as "Piri piri chicken with tomato and chilli salad". Subscribe here.