Peri-peri chili pepper gets warm welcome
Seasonings: A primer on using peri-peri peppers; plus, a recipe for Chicken Breast with Hot Yogurt Sauce.
Scripps Howard News Service
I love the smell, taste and texture of spicy peppers — but there's a limit to how much I can tolerate. I enjoy the heat, but not so much that it burns my mouth, leaving me wondering if I will ever be able to eat again. This is where the peri-peri chili pepper — also known as pili-pili or piri-piri — comes in.
The Portuguese were introduced to peri-peri long ago in southern Africa, in what is now Mozambique. The South African restaurant group Nando's Peri-Peri uses the chile in its fusion of Portuguese and Mozambique cuisines, which I tasted for the first time at a Nando's in downtown Washington, D.C. I became enamored with its sauces. While the pepper packs heat, it's not as hot as a habanero.
I have never found the chili pepper here in its fresh form, only in bottled sauces, so I was happy to learn more about it from Rochelle Schatzl, a South African cookbook author who directs research and development for Nando's Inc. She has traveled all over Africa to research peri-peri.
"It has a very light, fresh citrus-herbal flavor that blends well ... with most other foods, whether savory or sweet," Schatzl told me. "The specific capsaicin profile of the African bird's eye chili (peri-peri) means that you only taste a bit of heat at the end, as opposed to an overkill of blazing fire that destroys the flavor of what you're about to eat."
With peri-peri, less is more, she said.
While peri-peri is commercially available in a dried whole pod and in coarsely crushed powders, the quality varies a great deal. "The volatility of the aromatic ingredients makes the quality of dried pepper vary quite a bit," Schatzl says, advising further that bottled peri-peri sauce is as good as the fresh chili pepper and much easier to obtain and use.
Because the bottled peri-peri sauce tends to have a mild flavor, keep one thing in mind: Simplicity rules. A simple recipe will allow the sauce's mild flavor to shine through. Try adding the sauce to brighten up stir-fries, to add a dash to flash-fried shrimp, to jazz up soups, perk up stews and add zing to fish.
So let your imagination go wild and don't just think savory dishes, think drinks and desserts, too.
The following recipe, adapted from the Nando's Peri-Peri restaurant group, calls for marinating chicken for at least eight hours before cooking it. Serve the dish with roasted vegetables.
CHICKEN BREAST WITH HOT YOGURT SAUCE
Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings.
6 to 8 chicken breast cutlets
½ cup bottled peri-peri sauce
¼ cup Bulgarian yogurt (or other thick, plain yogurt)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine peri-peri sauce and yogurt in a large bowl; mix well.
Place chicken in a glass bowl. Pour marinade mixture over it to cover. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade. Place the chicken on a roasting pan or baking sheet. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes — basting twice with reserved marinade — or until cooked through. (To test for doneness, pierce the thickest part of the meat with a sharp knife or fork; juices should run clear. Or, insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. The internal temperature should reach 165 degrees.) Season to taste, and serve.
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