Portuguese Piri-Piri Hot Sauce

This Portuguese piri-piri hot sauce is made with bird’s eye chiles, which can be used on chicken, shrimp, pork, or just about any dish in Portugal.

A green bowl filled with Portuguese piri-piri hot sauce, a few dried red chiles on the side

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 (top two photos), 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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  • (4)
  • 5 M
  • 5 M
  • Makes 16 tablespoons | 1 cup
4.8/5 - 4 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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David Says

David Leite caricature

The photo in the lower left says it all: In Portugal, piri-piri peppers are seen as macho, a rite of passage, ubiquitous, and a must-have condiment. It won't put hair on your chest, but some of the old guard, who sit in the shade watching the goings-on in the praças of the Algarve, swear it keeps badness at bay.

The peppers on the right were on sale in a weekly market in Loulé, in the south of Portugal. These piri-piri peppers are squat, fat, and large--about 2 inches in length. I've seen them barely an inch long.

That's a long way of saying "piri-piri" is both a specific pepper and a general term to denote a whole group of hot peppers.

Whenever I make this, I try to find a blend of fresh hot peppers, and if I need to goose the heat, I'll toss in some dried ones. The most important thing is you do NOT want something so hot it blows your head off. Yes, these are hot, but they have complexity and fruitiness. For chiliheads, they top out at around 175,000 on the Scoville scale--well below that of the 2,000,000 of the Carolina Reaper, the hottest pepper out there.

Recipe Testers' Reviews

I received Peri Peri sauce from Africa years ago, and I rationed it like precious gold. It eventually made its way into supermarket shelves, and I was so excited to use it with abandon. I was really excited to try this recipe to see how it compares to what I've had in the past. I used a combination of jalapenos and habaneros, so the color was considerably more green than the picture.
It had a great warmth to it on the front of the tongue and it lingered in the throat for a while. It also had a very pleasant acid level. I wanted a bit more garlic and salt, but that may come through more as it sits. I'm now just dreaming of all the meats and vegetables I'm going to drizzle this all over.I used it on cauliflower fried rice, it was fantastic."

This spicy sauce was simple to make and can be used in a number of different ways. I used it as a marinade for a boneless turkey breast that I then baked, but it would also be great on a charred grilled chicken, or even spooned over anything needing some heat. I used 8 fresh red chilies (the variety that looks like a jalapeno but is red instead of green), 2 large garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, and the full 1 cup of olive oil.  (Because I was wanting to have a substantial amount of sauce to marinate the entire turkey breast, I wanted a lot of sauce) I actually added in 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt here instead of a pinch Again, because this was my marinade for an entire turkey breast I didn't want it to be lacking in flavor.

After I processed the sauce in the food processor, I let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours; I did not strain the mixture.  This recipe (with the 1 cup of oil added into it) made about 2 cups of sauce. One suggestion when prepping the sauce...don't forget to wear disposable gloves chopping the hot peppers!


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  1. 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.

  2. 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,


          2. 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.

  3. 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…

  4. 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. 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 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.

        2. 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. 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. Peter, thank you, this is quite literally life-changing news! Seriously. That piri piri sounds amazing. It makes me think of another recipe, a boozy one similar to this, coming up shortly that you may like, I’ll note when it posts on the site…

        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?

          2. 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. 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.

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