Chillies in Portuguese cooking

Chillies in Portuguese cooking. Piri-Piri prawns

The History Of Chillies in Portugal

While they were hugely instrumental in popularising Chillies worldwide - having introduced them amongst others to countries like India and Sri Lanka - the Portuguese are not particularly fond of spicy foods.  Except for the  Piri-Piri Chilli,  which can be found as a sauce or oil on many Portuguese tables, you are more likely to find mild bell pepper type Chillies in Portugal’s cuisine.

Portuguese seafood prepared with chillies

Whilst the Chilli is not that widely used in Portugal, this is not to say that Portuguese-speaking people in other parts of the world are not fans. In Mozambique, Angola and South Africa (which has many citizens of Portuguese descent), Portuguese cooking is closely associated with the use of the Chilli. Dishes like Piri- Piri Chicken (Peri- Peri in South Africa) and Piri- Piri prawns are much loved by many from these countries. Indeed, because of the fondness for Chillies developed in the former Portuguese colonies, the Piri-Piri Chilli has become so popular in Portugal.

Similarly, in Goa, India, a Portuguese colony for 450 years, many dishes are fusions of Indian and Portuguese cooking, e.g. Vindaloo curries are made with Chillies.  Brazil is another example of a former Portuguese colony where Portuguese is widely spoken, where Chillies are used in various recipes.

How Chillies are used in Portugal

Piri Piri chicken made with Chillies in Portuguese cookingChillies in Portuguese cooking

Peri-Peri chillies are used in Portugal to prepare chicken and seafood dishes. Dishes like Frango Piri- Piri (Peri-peri chicken), Sardinha's assadas com pimenta chili, limão e alho (roasted sardines with Chillis with lemon and garlic) are typical examples. In Portugal and Mozambique, Chillies are used to make Piri-Piri Camarão (Peri-Peri Prawns). It is also used extensively to make Molho de Piri-Piri (Peri-Peri sauce) and Peri – Peri oil.

Milder Chillies are used to make Massa de Pimentão (Bell pepper paste with garlic and olive oil), Caldeirada (Portuguese fish stew) and Chourico com Pimenta (Chorizo and Chillies)

Varieties of Chillies

Portuguese Chillies

Piri-Piri / Malagueta Chillies.

The names are used interchangeably, depending upon what part of the world you are in. Some may call the Malagueta the Piri-Piri Chilli; others will argue that the African Devil should claim this title. Yet others claim they are the same thing. While they both have the same origin (Capsicum frutescens species), I believe these Chillies are different. The African devil has developed its own character through African growing conditions that distinguish it from the MalaguetaMalagueta Chilli use in Portuguese cooking

When the African devil matures, it turns bright red. It has a Schoville rating of between 50000 and 175000 SHU and is predominantly grown in Africa. It was highly likely introduced to the African continent by the Portuguese.

The Malagueta, while being grown in Africa (and called Peri-Peri), is more commonly found in Brazil, which was interestingly a colony of Portugal. It starts as a small tapered green Chilli that grows to 2 inches when it will mature and turn red. It has a Scoville rating of between 60 000 and 100000 SHU. In Brazil, larger Malaguetas (approximately 2 inches) are called Malaguetão. Smaller Malaguetes (up to 1 inch) are called Malaquetinha.  They are not different Chillies. It is simply the difference in size that gives these Chillies their names.

Irrespective of the above, both are much loved in Portugal.