Portuguese Piri-Piri Hot Sauce

Portuguese Piri-Piri Hot Sauce

The torrid piri-piri pepper, known as peri-peri in Africa, has been a staple of the Portuguese table since the Age of Discovery beginning in the 14th century. After Columbus brought the fiery fruit back to the continent from the New World in 1493, it was the Portuguese who carried it throughout the globe. In fact, the chili, including relatives of the African piri-piri peppers, has become so ubiquitous, it’s put to use in more than one-quarters of the world’s cuisines. This sauce, found everywhere in Portugal and several of its former colonies, specifically Angola and Mozambique–is a must-slather on any kind of poultry, pork ribs, and shrimp.–David Leite

LC Stepping In For Piri-Piri Peppers Note

Uh, the only trick is, you won’t find fresh piri-piri hot peppers stateside. Stepping in for piri-piri peppers are Thai bird, red jalapeño, santaka, arbol, cayenne, or Tabasco, depending on availability as well as personal heat preference and tolerance. You can find dried piri-piri peppers. They pack a wallop, so experiment with the amounts so that you get the sauce you deserve.

For those concerned about the health risks of allowing raw garlic to steep in olive oil, Shirley O. Corriher, food scientist and author of Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, says that due to the sauce’s high acidity, there’s no problem. In fact, she added: “I’d be tempted to eat it myself.”

Portuguese Piri-Piri Hot Sauce

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  • (3)
  • 5 M
  • 5 M
  • 1 cup
4.7/5 - 3 reviews
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Coarsely chop the peppers and discard stems.

Place the chilis and their seeds, the garlic, lemon juice, salt, and as much of the oil as you wish in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and purée. Pour the mixture into a small glass jar and let steep for several days in the fridge.

You can strain the mixture and return it to jar, but I like mine with a bit of texture. Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 1 month.

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  1. Another vote for paprika, lemon zest and whiskey here. However, if you add it before seeping, I would assume the sugars would mess up the balance of the acidity. Better to add later. No? What is the best way to take your basic molho and making it into a creamy type sauce? I was thinking of devising a Piri-Piri shrimp pizza with a creamy Piri-Piri as the base instead of the usual tomato sauce base. I appreciate your food safety advice and links.

    1. Lisa, adding the paprika, lemon, and whiskey at the same time as the other ingredients is fine. It all works out in the end. There is no food safety issue there. As far as it making creamy, do you mean creamy texture or actually using cream?

  2. Hi! I was wondering if you could use water, instead of olive oil, & then puree the peppers to make a thick, chunky kind of sauce? I don’t want Botulism, but I also can’t imagine the taste of lemon in the sauce….my friends in the Açores & Portugal just use the olive oil….but I don’t want to risk getting sick. Do any of you peel off the pepper skin before pureeing them? This time, I’m trying Trinidad Scorpion peppers, which are supposed to be 400 times hotter than Jalapeños!
    Thank you for all of your advice!

    1. Andrea, the lemon provides the acid that neutralizes the chance of any sickness, as Shirley Corriher says in the note. You could try water, but I don’t know how it would turn out. I’ve never made it that way. You could try garlic powder; that is completely safe. I hope this helps in some way.

  3. Muhammad, I make it as hot or mild as I prefer. I adjust by the types of chillies. With Sriracha it is a certain taste you are looking for. An Asian flavor. I use Fresnos and thai Bird’s eyes, adjusting the heat by the amount of bird’s eye’s. It needs to be hot of coarse, but I don’t like it through the roof. I chop up the chillies and add garlic, ginger, organic sugar, cover and place in a dark cupboard for about 6 days and let it ferment. Checking it each day. Then I blend it all adding rice vinegar at that time. Strain the whole mixture through a fine collander. I have also taken to adding vodka during the blend also. Kicks it up a notch. I like to thicken with organic chia seeds which need to be hydrated and strained.

  4. Yes, Nathan, I have been doing research on sauces (chilli sauces in particular) recently and came across Sriracha. As far as I know it is quite hot, is it not? Although I never tasted it myself.

  5. Renee, Sofia, David thanks to you guys, very kind of you to welcome me. It’s great to be here and apologies for certain words I failed to add, as you might have spotted, for some reasons did not show as I submitted the comment.

    Let me say that as much as I restlessly am trying to make peri peri sauce, yours is simple. The beautiful aroma that I got after I prepared chicken (marinaded with peri peri sauce) in my health fryer was pure gratification and sublime mouth-watering food. I am honoured to be welcomed by you all and for sure all you undoubtedly are very generous to share your stories and experiences. Tasteful! Palatable! obrigado!!!!

  6. I have to say this, that in making peri-peri sauce, I also stumbled on a great Sriracha sauce method. Fermented sauce, with the great Asian flavors of Sriracha sauce you buy in the store.

  7. What a fantastic website this is. Guys, all of you who are leaving comments here share tips and advice with others in such a nice way that it has motivated me to send this comment. David Leite, Renee Schettler Rossi, Sofia Reino Kinch, and to be all others who have left gems of advice and knowledge have made this experience of accidentally stumbling upon this website so enjoyable. Well, already tonight before arriving here I have tried two piri piri sauce recipes and comments on Botulism, David Leite and Ted, many thanks to both you gentlemen!!!!!!!!!! I am sure I will regularly read the conversations here all because of the names I mentioned above. Well, you guys have drawn me in!

    1. Muhammad,
      Thanks so very much for your comments. So glad you did enjoy all of our comments. I believe this is what makes this site so special. Not just the recipes but all the conversations that follow through messages. I have learned so very much since I first found this site. Welcome to the LC world!

    2. What a lovely and gracious sentiment. That’s exactly what we wish to accomplish but one never really knows…until someone as kind and thoughtful takes the time to let us know. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  8. I have just finished my own version of fermented sriracha sauce, which I have to say is even better than what you can buy. (And I have witnesses to that.) I want to start making Piri Piri sauce now. My roots are in South Africa, even though I now live in fridged New Hampshire. I plan on using this especially for chicken liver starters (I raised my chickens here also) and I can’t get piri piri chiles either. Sometimes I can get Fresnos or Thai bird’s eye’s, but I worry about the heat with bird’s eye’s. Maybe a blend of both?

    1. Nathan, so glad you’re going to try piri-piri sauce. Thai bird’s eye peppers can be too hot, but you can control that to a degree by removing the seeds and ribs from some of them. Blending the two peppers is a great idea, too.

  9. Hi. Today I am craving peri peri sauce and going to make some and pour it over my fish dish.

    A friend used to visit me from Maputo, Mozambique many years ago and brought with her huge prawns for us to eat, here in Durban, South Africa. She told me the quick way to make the peri peri sauce was the juice of 3 limes (or lemons), 1 tablespoon chili Powder, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon crushed garlic, 1 Tablespoon sea salt. Add about 40 ml olive oil a little at a time, till you have a runny sauce. Sorry no photo.

  10. You can get the seeds for the African Devil pepper (piri piri) from Sustainable Seed Co. and grow them at home. I’ve just made this sauce with them and can’t wait for it to be ready as I’m a piri piri addict :)

      1. Mine are doing really well in central florida I have 3 plants with over 70 chillies on each plant. They like the high temperatures above 80.

  11. We have been making this sauce in our family for 40+ years. But we just put the whole peppers, lemon peel, garlic cloves, and bay leaves in the oil and allow to sit a few weeks. Don’t wait for shrimp. Fry or scramble eggs, fry onions for spaghetti sauce or chili, or use anywhere you would use olive oil. Adds depth to many dishes.

    1. Hi Linda, thanks for your recipe. I just want to add, though, that it’s dangerous to have garlic suspended in an anaerobic (non-oxygen) environment, which pure oil is, unless there’s some type of acid. It can cause botulism. The fact your family has been fine lo these 40-plus years attests to the fact that it doesn’t happen often, but it can. And I just want our readers to be aware of that potential deadly risk.

      1. Hi David, saw the same thing about making chili oil. Do you or anyone else have any advice on this? Have a whole batch of dried (not fresh) piri piri peppers from Portugal and made a big batch to marinade in the fridge but threw it away was so worried about botulism! Talked to a mate doing chemistry at uni and he said it’s about the acidity. Is it enough to have lemon juice in the mixture for acidity to stop botulism? Wow. Botulism.

        1. Ted, yes. Botulism. It ain’t something you want to mess with. This recipe is safe if–and it’s a big if–you follow it exactly. No substitution of ingredients, no increasing or decreasing the amount of ingredients. As food scientist Shirely Corriher says above: This recipe works because there is enough lemon juice (acid) in the mix. Here are some references I suggest you look at to make 100% sure of yourself and of the process. How to Prevent Botulism and Safe Homemade Flavored and Infused Oils.

          1. Hi David,

            Thanks for the detailed info. I did add lemon but not a whole one, and I added more olive oil as I went a bit nuts with the chilis (ouch). Will stick to the exact recipe (does it make a difference if the chilis are dried?), and if I do deviate at all (oregano and paprika are popular additions) then I won’t do it as a long term marinade!

            Thanks once again,


            1. Ted, yeah, ditch that batch. The acid and oil have to be in precise proportion. If you want to play with other ingredients–not the acid and oil amounts–bring the whole thing to a simmer over medium-low heat for five minutes. The cooking is an added protection.

  12. You forgot to mention paprika and one very important ingredient is a 2 tablespoons of oregano…also you can add a half red sweet peper…

  13. Love piri-piri and always have some in hand. I always grew up with it but have a simplified yet just as good recipe which is fantastic in any type of stews. All we do is add small malagueta peppers in a tall glass container with olive oil or whiskey. Close the the container and wait until all malaguetas are at the bottom. Once that is done, you have this amazing sauce to use everything you are cooking!

      1. The Malagueta peppers are small dried red peppers I believe originally from Moçambique. My family would always have them around and today they grow their own in their organic B&B farm. I am able to bring a few every time I go back to Portugal. Shhh… let’s not tell that to customs! It is a very powerful pepper and very tasty one too.

          1. Regarding growing of peri-peri in North America, especially northern states or Canada. No issue. Start the seeds in a tray on a bay window that receives sunshine in Feb. By April, the seedlings are ready and about 10-15cm. In May plant them outside in full sun.

            Fear not, peri-peri gives real full heat no matter what; I bring in around 5 plants back inside around Oct and in the bay window. Give nice dose of sheep manure and plant feed, they love the winter by the window despite being -20C outside (inside is around 18C). They flower 2x in winter.

            Some chinese stores have the dried thai chilli. It is close but not the same. I have the jwaneng, Botswana strain as well as Zimbabwean cultivar. If you are in north america, i can send you the seeds you can grow. Jwaneng is smaller pod similar to Malagueta variety but with a fiery kick. The plant lives for around 3+ yrs; I have them indoor and then outdoor in summer time. They produce prolific amounts of this beauty.

            First time with Zimbabwean strain; it is 3x in size width wise but same length. This is a mighty beast which packs a much more punch than Jwaneng variety.

        1. Hi, Noel. I’m a bit stumped, yes. Not sure what would have caused that. The only thing that comes to mind is perhaps the ribs of the peppers might have clouded it? Do you have a picture?

          1. No, I finished it anyway :-) would it not have something to do with the olive oil reacting with the lemon juice when being blended?

            1. Noel, that wouldn’t be the cause–at least any more than it would be for a vinaigrette. That’s why I was asking to see a picture, if you had it. I’ll have to make it again and see if I experience it!

      1. Dear David and Sofia and all those potential piri piri people, yes to oil AND whisky! A lovely old Portuguese couple from Mozambique had this restaurant in Johannesburg and gave us their recipe. We had big garlicky LM prawns with piri sauce dashed over them from a bottle of Johnnie Walker with holes punched in the cap. The lady added half a cup whisky to her oil/peppers/garlic/parsley/lemon juice for levels of tastes. Hotazell that came and went so enjoyably.

        1. Peter, that reminds me of yet another favorite at our home growing up. My parents live in Cape Town and had a help from Mozambique who taught them one of my very favorite chutneys. Layers of lemon quarters, coarse sea salt, malaguetas, and so on until a glass jar is fully packed, then fill it with lemon juice until no air bubbles. Cover it with a cotton cloth and rope then let it slowly cook outside fully exposed to the sun and hot temperatures. Make sure to check it everyday and add lemon juice so the top does not dry up. Once it is fully cooked (about 30 days of strong sun and heat), bring it back inside, remove the cloth and close it with its normal lid. You can enjoy it simply with a nice grilled steak or go one step further and create a paste with it, butter and lots of garlic then brush your grilled chicken or ribs with it!

      2. Would you be so kind as to write me where I might buy a bottle(s) of the peri-peri peppers (not the sauce.) Thank you for your help.

        Dennis Macro

        1. Dennis, I’ve never stumbled over the peppers in the States. I’m not sure if it’s due to any kind of an import regulation. They’re also hard to grow then in North America, because there really is no place that’s hot and dry enough to stress the plants so they turn out spicy enough fruit. What I do is bring back a bag or two of dried pepper whenever I travel to Portugal. Perhaps some of our readers can help you?

          1. I actually found piri-piri peppers at my local Mrs. Greens in Chicago. They said they were grown in Michigan of all places. Making the piri-piri paste from The New Portuguese Table now, but ran out of whiskey so I hope brandy is good enough.

        2. Dennis,
          I actually buy the dry chili peppers at Asian markets. Depending on how spicy you want to make the sauce, ask a person working at the store which to get. The latest ones I bought are called “dried japones chiles” (product of china) and have worked out pretty well. Hope this helps.

  14. Excellent recipe! I just love this sauce and always buy Nando’s piri piri sauce, but want to start creating batches for my family as we get through so much of the stuff. I plan on making a slightly modified version of this one but apart from using the hot chillies, I will also be adding sweet red peppers and a little red wine vinegar.

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