Africa is the source of the heat, but it was the Portuguese spirit of adventure that brought us chicken piri-piri, a spicy grilled dish common in southern Portugal and in Portuguese-style restaurants in Africa (where piri-piri is a small hot chili). It was a yen for wealth more than culinary creativity that propelled 15th- and 16th-century Portuguese explorers like Vasco da Gama along the spice route around the Cape of Good Hope to India and back to Europe. But the flavors they collected along the way ― layered on the heat of chilies that later came to the Old World from the New ― make an exciting sauce for seafood and meats.
Traditionally, piri-piri includes a splash of lemon and a hint of garlic with its roundup of herbs and spices; we're more generous with both in our version. As a marinade for chicken and an all-purpose sauce, rub, and dip for the rest of the meal, it's the foundation for a very lively party menu.