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Eric Akis: A flat-out delicious roasted chicken

If you want spice-up your life, a tasty way to do that is to make piri piri-style chicken. Piri piri, also spelled pere pere, is the Swahili term for the spicy bird’s-eye chili used in Africa.
A spatchcocked chicken is flavoured with a piri piri mixture before roasting and finished with a spicy lemon butter sauce. ERIC AKIS

If you want spice-up your life, a tasty way to do that is to make piri piri-style chicken.

Piri piri, also spelled pere pere, is the Swahili term for the spicy bird’s-eye chili used in Africa. During colonial times, Portuguese inhabitants made a hot sauce with those chilies they logically called piri piri. It was used to flavour flame-cooked foods, such as chicken, and still is.

You can, of course, make piri piri-style chicken at home with your own flavouring mix. I did that and in my recipe you can roast the chicken in the oven, or head outside and cook it in on a barbecue.

When preparing the whole chicken I bought, I decided to spatchcock it. It’s a method in which you cut out the chicken’s backbone and then press and flatten out the bird. Spatchcocking creates a wide surface you can brush with the piri piri mixture, ensuring all parts of the bird are richly flavoured with the olive oil, lemon, pepper flakes, garlic and other good things it contains.

After the chicken is cooked, carved and set on a serving platter, it’s drizzled with a warm lemon/butter/hot pepper sauce mixture, further enhancing its incredible flavour.

The recipe serves four. If that’s too many for you, the leftover chicken can be enjoyed the next day or two. Perhaps in a main course salad, where, for example, you slice some of the leftover piri piri-style chicken and set it on a plate with caesar salad.

Spatchcock Piri Piri-style Chicken

This brightly spiced, juicy chicken was spatchcocked before roasting; a technique where you flatten out the bird and create a large surface area to flavour.

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus marinating time

Cooking time: 75 to 30 minutes

Makes: four servings

1 (4 lb./1.8 kg) roasting chicken

2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

4 Tbsp lemon juice (divided; see Note)

3 Tbsp olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp ground oregano

1 tsp paprika

• flaked sea salt or kosher salt, to taste

2 Tbsp butter

1 tsp Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, mint or parsley

• lemon slices, for garnish

Set the chicken on a work surface, breast side down. With kitchen shears or a very sharp knife, cut along either side of the chicken’s backbone and remove it (save the backbone for stock). Turn the chicken breast side up. Firmly press on the chicken to flatten it. Set chicken in a 13- x 9-inch or similar sized dish.

In a small bowl, combine zest, 3 Tbsp of the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano and paprika. Brush the chicken on both sides with this mixture. Cover chicken, refrigerate and let marinate two hours.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Set chicken, breast side up, in a shallow roasting pan, ensuring it’s pressed flat. Brush chicken with the marinade left in the dish; season with salt.

Roast chicken 55 minutes. Baste with pan juices, and then roast 15 to 20 minutes more, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the centre of a thigh registers 180 F.

Remove chicken from the oven and let rest in the pan five minutes. While it rests, place the butter, 1 Tbsp lemon juice and hot pepper sauce in a very small pot. Set over medium heat and cook just until the butter is melted. Remove pot from the heat.

When chicken has rested, transfer to a cutting board. Carve chicken into portions and arrange on a serving platter. Drizzle the butter mixture over the chicken, sprinkle with chopped cilantro (or mint or parsley), garnish with lemon slices and serve.

Note: Two lemons should yield the juice, zest and slices needed here.

Eric’s options: To cook the chicken on your barbecue, preheat it until 375 F in the chamber. Set the roasting pan with chicken in it on one side of the barbecue. Close the lid and turn the heat off underneath the chicken; leave the other side of the barbecue on. Cook, baste, rest, carve, drizzle, sprinkle and garnish the chicken as described above.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.