Awaken your taste buds with Peri Peri Sauce, a classic South African condiment made with African bird’s eye chili peppers, garlic, and citrus. Its bold, fiery flavor perfectly complements chicken, shrimp, vegetables, and more!
One taste of peri peri sauce and you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life. In line with jerk sauce as one of the best sauces for chicken, this South African condiment packs a bold punch with its spicy heat and smoky-tangy undertones.
This bold sauce has been spicing up South African cuisine for centuries but it’s been growing in popularity throughout North America, the U.K., and Australia thanks to the restaurant, Nando’s. The South African restaurant franchise has bottled a range of different peri peri sauce variations, putting the classic sauce on the map.
That said, you could buy a bottle from Nando’s or even Trader Joe’s, but whipping it up yourself using this homemade peri peri sauce recipe is easier than you think. Plus, it lasts for weeks or months at a time! You’ll love it on chicken, shrimp, veggies, sandwiches, and endless other dishes.
What is peri peri sauce?
Peri peri sauce (also spelled piri piri, pil pil, and pili pili) is a traditional South African condiment made from African bird’s eye chili peppers, aromatics, vinegar, oil, and citrus. Its origins trace back to the 15th century when Portuguese settlers encountered African bird’s eye chili peppers and used them to make the sauce we love today.
The finished sauce has a smooth and thick consistency with balanced spicy, zesty, and tangy flavors. It’s commonly used as a marinade, dip, or finishing sauce for both meat and veggies. And while it’s meant to be fiery, the heat level can easily be adjusted, whether you prefer a milder or hotter version.
- Red bell peppers – These mild peppers are roasted ahead of time to give the sauce a sweet and slightly smoky base flavor.
- Red onion
- African bird’s eye chili peppers – These tiny, yet fiery peppers are the main source of bold and spicy flavors in the sauce. If you’re having a hard time finding African bird’s eye chilis, Thai red chili peppers are the best substitute and are widely available at major grocery stores and Asian grocery stores.
- Tomato sauce – This adds a balancing umami flavor and gives the sauce a cohesive, pourable consistency.
- Sherry vinegar – Or use red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
- Smoked paprika – Smoked paprika adds warm, smoky notes and a gentle heat.
- Dried oregano
- Salt and pepper
- Lemon juice and zest – Finishing the sauce with fresh lemon juice and zest (or lime) adds a bright and zesty complexity. Don’t skip it!
- Red wine vinegar – Or apple cider vinegar. Adding more vinegar at the end fine-tunes the flavor, heat, and acidity.
- Extra virgin olive oil – This is key for emulsifying the ingredients. The sauce wouldn’t be as cohesive, smooth, or creamy without it.
How to make peri peri sauce
Broil the peppers and onions on a baking sheet placed close to the heating element until they begin to char.
Meanwhile, heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chilis, sauteing until fragrant.
Transfer the charred veggies and the garlic-chili mixture to a blender or food processor. Add the tomato sauce, vinegar, and spices, then puree until smooth.
Transfer the sauce to a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Return the sauce to the food processor and add in the lemon juice, lemon zest, and red wine vinegar. Begin blending while slowly streaming in the olive oil. Give it a taste, adjusting the amount of salt, pepper, lemon, vinegar, or oil as needed. Enjoy it right away or store it for later.
Tips and tricks
- To control the peri peri spice, decrease or increase the number of peppers that you use. You can also cool things off by removing the seeds and veins from some of the peppers before blending.
- To enhance the smoky flavor and complexity, roast the chili peppers and garlic cloves alongside the red bell peppers and onions.
- Remember to wear gloves when handling the hot chili peppers! Afterward, wash your hands very well and do your best not to touch your eyes or face.
- Save some time by roasting the peppers and onions up to 1 week ahead of time. They’ll stay fresh when stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
Peri peri chicken is popular for good reason. The sauce-coated chicken packs a bold punch, making for an exciting and spicy lunch or dinner.
The sauce, luckily, comes with endless other uses as well! Check out these ways to use it:
- Marinade – Instead of coating chicken in the sauce, use it as a marinade for chicken breasts, legs, thighs, or wings. It also works just as well for vegetables, tofu, prawns, and meaty white fish, like cod, haddock, and grouper.
- Dipping sauce or spread – Mix the sauce with mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, or hummus to temper the heat, then serve it as a spicy dipping sauce. Surround the bowl of dip with crusty bread, pita, naan, or grilled veggies. Any leftovers would be delicious spread on sandwiches, burgers, and wraps.
- Finishing sauce – Brush the peri peri sauce over grilled shrimp, chicken, steak, pork, fish, or scallops during the last few minutes of cooking.
- Pizza sauce – Use it as the base sauce on a pizza before adding the cheese and toppings.
- Scrambled eggs – Drizzle the sauce over scrambled eggs, omelets, or quiche to spice up your breakfast.
African bird’s eye chili peppers typically range from 50,000 to 175,000 in Scoville Heat Units, making them undeniably hot and the main source of heat in the sauce. However, the amount of heat can easily be adjusted by using less or more peppers and/or removing the seeds and veins beforehand.
If you’re looking for peppers that are almost as spicy as bird’s eye chilis, then you’ll want to use Thai red chili peppers, habanero peppers, scotch bonnet peppers, or serrano peppers as a substitute.
The whole batch or leftover sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
It also freezes well for about 2 months. I like to freeze hot sauces like this in ice cube trays or silicone molds for easy storage and thawing. When you want to use some of the sauce, let as many cubes as you need thaw in the fridge before serving.
More sauces for chicken
- Aji Amarillo Sauce
- Aji Verde Sauce
- Copycat Chick Fil A Sauce
- Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce
- Mojo Sauce
- MORE → 25+ Sauces for Chicken
Did you make this homemade peri peri sauce?
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Peri Peri Sauce
- 2 red bell peppers (quartered and seeded)
- 1 red onion (peeled and sliced into thick rounds)
- 6 cloves garlic (crushed)
- 1 cup small Thai red chilis (or African bird's eye chillies, stems removed and roughly chopped)
- ½ cup tomato sauce
- 1/3 cup sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar)
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat broiler to high.
- Arrange peppers and onion slices on a baking sheet. Broil, about 4-inches from the heating element, for about 10 minutes, until beginning to char.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 TBSP oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chiles and saute for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Set aside.
- Transfer the charred peppers and onion, chiles and garlic to a blender or food processor. Add the tomato sauce, vinegar and spices. Puree until smooth. (Set the food processor bowl aside, we’ll use it later too.)
- Transfer the sauce to a small saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Return the mixture to the food processor and add the lemon juice, zest, and vinegar). Turn the food processor or blender on, then slowly stream in the olive oil. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.
- Enjoy immediately or store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.