Guest Recipe: Michael Nightingale, Piri Piri

I received a phone call (really, people still do that?) asking me for “my” piri piri recipe, so I thought I would repost it, since it’s been a few years since it’s been highlighted. I do get a lot of requests for this one. From June 2010:

Last week when we were sharing ideas for the holiday BBQ,  Men Who Cook extraordinaire Michael Nightingale, came up with this, and as always, was willing to share it here.  So take it away Michael:

Click for full-size photo

… last weekend I whipped up a batch of Piri Piri oil to use on chicken, which would be perfect for a barbecue.

Although the chillies are originally from Mozambique, in Portuguese cooking this oil is used for a huge range of dishes. It has a wonderful flavour and a subtle (not too subtle) heat, that somehow mellows and intensifies with storage.

My recipe is an amalgam of recipes from a lovely Portuguese cookbook called “Piri piri starfish” by Tessa Kiros, another book by David Leite called “The New Portuguese Table” (which is ok), and a bit of experimenting.

These measurements are all infinitely variable. It’s really easy and takes about half an hour to make a big jar full. For a basic piri piri oil, you will need:

  • Half a litre of good olive oil
  • 12 fresh chillis – piri piri for choice but any good hot ones will do
  • 12 dried chillis
  • 2 to 3 tsp of salt
  • 3 or 4 or even more cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp of sugar or honey
  • the zest and juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 a cup of whisky
  • 1/4 of a cup of vinegar (any sort really, but I use red wine vinegar)
  • some bay leaves

This last batch, I also added some fresh rosemary, some fresh ginger and some coriander root.

Chop your dry ingredients roughly, and put about 3/4 of them (chillies, salt, garlic, sugar or honey, lemon zest, and any other bits, but NOT the bay leaf) in a food processor and process till they are a bit chunky and a bit mulchy.

Put a huge glug of olive oil in a fry pan on a medium heat, add the reserved dry ingredients, plus about half of what is in the food processor, plus the bay leaves, and fry on a gentle heat for a little while. Then add the whisky, the lemon juice and the vinegar, and continue frying/simmering it gently, as long as you want – five minutes or twenty minutes, depending on your taste. I like to do it for a while, so the chilli caramelises a bit and the liquids are reduced. When it is almost done, add in whatever is left in the food processor to add a fresh edge.

Don’t breathe in it too deeply over the pan while you are making it because it will strip the hairs off the inside of your nose.

Put the lot in a big jar, and fill the jar up with more olive oil. Use straight away or keep it so the flavour develops. I keep mine in the fridge.

To use on chicken, put chicken of any kind (thighs are good, as are breasts) in a bowl with the juice of a lemon, the lemon halves, some dried oregano, a lot of chopped garlic, some paprika and some salt. Marinate for at least half an hour, then cook on a hot grill. When you turn it, baste the cooked side with the piri piri oil with lots of the bits mixed in, and make sure it gets turned three times, so you get black crunchy bits. Don’t overcook it though.


Thanks as always Michael.  For more of Michael’s photography and art, head over to TattooSydney.

Got a recipe you’d like to share:  Email me here.

5 thoughts on “Guest Recipe: Michael Nightingale, Piri Piri

  1. Thanks TaMara!

    In the interests of multi tasking, I’d also note that this oil can be used for all sorts of things.

    It makes for a particularly tasty pasta dish – put some of the oil and chunky bits in a fry pan, throw in some whole cherry tomatoes and some chopped spring onions, saute until the tomatoes burst, then throw in a huge handful of baby spinach leaves and continue cooking until the leaves are wilted. Put your cooked pasta (trofie or something with a bit of body is particularly good) in the pan and toss it around. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan and serve.


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