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Portuguese Recipe: Grilled Cornish Hens with Piri-Piri

Cooking 20 min Preparation 25 min 2 medium
Recipe type: Poultry Cuisine: Portuguese

As our neighbors bring out their best BBQ sauces and ribs, we bring out the sardines and the whole butterflied chickens (I use Cornish hens mostly since they cook much faster). Our secret weapon is the Piri-Piri (recipe here), one of the ingredients that distinguish our cooking from other Mediterranean-based cuisines such as that of our Iberian cousin, Spain, or other countries in Southern Europe. The mildly hot and sweet concoction is a co-invention of the Portuguese and its former colony Mozambique using birds-eye chili peppers. It’s the perfect addition to sumptuous poultry dishes!


  • Grilled Cornish Hens
  • 2 Cornish hens (serves two)
  • 4 Garlic cloves
  • Fresh sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 ½ cups of olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • Paprika
  • Black pepper
  • Coarse salt
  • Piri-Piri


  1. Cut excess fat from Cornish hens.
  2. Butterfly the hens using kitchen shears, cutting the backbone from tail to neck.
  3. Once butterflied, press breast down on a cutting board and flatten the ribs.
  4. Cover sides with salt. Rub in the lemon juice.
  5. Add fresh black pepper to the olive oil and brush with the Piri-Piri. Let the hens sit in the fridge overnight or for a couple of hours before grilling.
  6. Remove from tray and place the hens breast down on a grilling basket. Brush them with the juices from the marinade and tuck two or three sprigs of rosemary in rib cage before clasping basket tightly.
  7. Place the hens breast down on a hot grill for 5 minutes. Then shift the hens to a lower head source on the grill, or reduce the heat to medium for an additional ten minutes or until charred.
  8. Brush more of the marinade on each hen and flip for another ten minutes or until charred. Remove and place on a cutting board and let rest for five minutes before serving.

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