Creating recipes isn't a pastime—it's a passion. And a lot of fun.

The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Piri Piri Grilled Game Hens

Piri piri (meaning “pepper-pepper” in Swahili) is a signature sauce in Portuguese cuisine, but its origins are in southern Africa where the tiny bird’s eye, or “African devil,” chile was first cultivated. This fiery hot pepper is not readily available in North America, so other small, hot chiles are used here to create this deliciously spicy, richly flavored sauce.

For this recipe, I used Thai chiles along with mild red bell pepper, paprika, and lemon to make a smoky orange-red sauce for game hens. Call it easy grilled chicken—African (and Portuguese) style.

Game hens (Cornish hens or rock Cornish hens) are easy to work with and grill fairly quickly compared to regular chickens. A simple rub of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper is all you need to generate a little flavor during cooking. The biggest taste arrives with the sauce. 

To prepare the chicken: Remove any giblets, then rinse the hens thoroughly and pat dry. Using kitchen shears, remove the tail and any excess skin and fat. Lay each hen breast-side down on a work surface. Cut along each side of the backbone and remove it. Cut through the center of the breastbone to divide the bird in half.

Cut along each side of the backbone 
Remove the backbone 
Split game hen
Note: These little hens typically cook in about 50 minutes, if you’re roasting them in the oven. Here, I grilled them off-heat, so I gave them more time to finish—just a bit over an hour.

Serves 4


For the Piri Piri
  • 6 red Thai chiles, chopped (3-4 for less heat)
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped scallion (white part only)
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp finely chopped lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • sea salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
Sauce Ingredients
For the Game Hens
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for grill
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 game hens, split lengthwise in half, backbone removed

For the Piri Piri
  1. Place the first 7 ingredients (through paprika) in a food processor and season with salt. Process until finely chopped.
  2. Gradually add the oil and process until smoothly pureed. Reserve 1/4 of the sauce in a small serving bowl.
Ready to Chop
Chopped Ingredients 
Oil Added 
Piri Piri Sauce
For the Game Hens
  1. Prepare a grill for medium heat with space for indirect grilling.
  2. Combine the olive oil and lemon juice in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Gently lift the breast skin on each hen half and rub some of the oil mixture beneath. Rub the remainder all over the outside of the hens.
Marinated Chicken
  1. Rub the grill grate lightly with oil. Place the hens breast-side down over direct heat until the skin is lightly charred, 3-4 minutes. Turn and grill 2-3 minutes on the cut side.
  2. Move the hens off direct heat and continue grilling, turning 3-4 times, until almost cooked through, about 50 minutes.
  3. With the hens breast-side up, baste each generously with piri piri sauce. Continue grilling and basting lightly until cooked through, 15-20 minutes longer.
  4. Transfer to a board or platter and let rest 5 minutes.
Start Grilling over Direct Heat
After 1st Turn
Finish Grilling off Heat
Hens Basted with Sauce
Serve the hens with the reserved sauce to pass at the table.

Piri Piri Grilled Game Hens

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