The underlying flavor of this piri piri sauce comes from caramelized onions and red bell peppers. Bird’s eye chilis bring some heat to the sauce, and lemon juice and fresh oregano round everything out with a complex mix of acidity and herbal notes.
Many people associate piri piri sauce with the Portuguese, although the bird’s eye chilis used in Portugal have their origins in African cooking (during colonialism, the Portuguese took bird’s eye chilis from Africa and brought them to Goa, India). —Josh Cohen
red bell pepper, diced
bird’s eye chilies, cut in half, seeds and stem removed (substitute a pinch or two of cayenne pepper if you have to)
freshly ground black pepper
clove garlic, peeled and left whole
Zest of 1 lemon
loosely packed fresh oregano
1 lb head-on shrimp (you don’t have to use head-on shrimp, but the heads have a lot of extra flavor. If you use cleaned shrimp without the heads, use ½ lb shrimp)
Set a large skillet over medium heat, and add olive oil until the bottom of the skillet is just barely coated. Add the onion and bell pepper. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and bell pepper become nicely caramelized and browned along the edges. When the onion and bell pepper look caramelized, add the bird’s eye chilis and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Transfer the contents of the skillet to a blender. Add the whole clove of garlic, along with the lemon zest and fresh oregano. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and blend until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the blender with a rubber spatula as necessary. If the sauce looks too thick, you can add 1 tablespoon of water at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Set the sauce aside for now. You can make this sauce a day or two ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator.
Remove and discard the shell from the body of each shrimp, but leave the heads attached (they are filled with flavor!). Use a paring knife to make a shallow slit down the back of the shrimp, and remove the vein that runs down the length of the shrimp. Set a large skillet over high heat, and add olive oil until the bottom of the skillet is just barely coated. When the oil is about to start smoking, add the shrimp. Season with salt and pepper, and let the shrimp cook undisturbed in a single even layer, until the bottom side of each shrimp is nicely caramelized. When the bottom sides of the shrimp look brown and crispy, reduce the heat to low and add the piri piri sauce to the skillet. Flip each shrimp so that the caramelized side is facing up. Add the bay leaves. Simmer until the sauce is hot and the shrimp are fully cooked.
4). Remove the skillet from the heat and add the juice of 1 lemon. Stir the sauce and then taste it. Adjust with salt as necessary. Serve, garnished with parsley and an extra drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, I'm perpetually inspired by the diversity of foods that exist in this city. I love shopping at the farmer's market, making ingredients taste like the best versions of themselves, and rolling fresh pasta.