29 May 2012

Cooking with the Mamas: Pili-Pili Sauce

Johan has always been on a quest for the perfect hot-sauce. (A clichéd goal, perhaps...) Something powerful, yet neutral.  Good on everything, from breakfast to dessert.

He was a Sriracha man for awhile, but it didn't pack the punch that he wanted.  He tried various boutique brands with names including the adjectives "atomic" or "blow-your-brains-out." But, they have always fallen short.

This is what he says he looks for:
"In a hot sauce, I want a lot of heat and a bit of flavor.  Just a couple drops should be enough to wake up the dish -- I shouldn't have to use it like a sauce just to get the heat, and I can't abide too much vinegar or sweetness".
(Sorry, but,  "I can't abide"?!)

Until Mama Vida came along.

The first week we were here, we had a life-changing chicken dinner at Mama Colonel's.  These incredible vinegar half-chickens came with mayo and pili-pili sauce on the side, for dipping.  Johan loved the chicken, but was possessed by the pili-pili.

Later, he picked up a bottle of Nando's brand, Peri-Peri Sauce, hoping to recreate the magic at home.  He was incredibly disappointed.  Seeing the bottle in the refrigerator, Mama Vida casually mentioned that she could make a hot sauce...if we wanted to try it.

She arrived the next day with this bag of beauties:

And Johan's life has never been the same.

He puts this stuff on everything.  Mama Vida can barely churn it out fast enough.  We've already devised a plan for next week's massive pili-pili making extravaganza...so he will make it through the summer vacation.

Like most perfect things, this sauce is incredibly simple.  Here goes it:

Carefully stem and de-seed (how many seeds you leave in determines the sauce's final heat) a whole bunch of extremely hot peppers.  Mama Vida doesn't wear gloves, but I might suggest that you do.  The peppers that she uses to make pili-pili look an awful lot like Scotch Bonnets to me...so we're talking very hot.

Place peppers in blender/food processor.

Pop in a few cloves of garlic.

Add 1 onion, chopped.

Then, whirl.

 At this point, you can do one of two things:  

1.) Leave it be as a lovely puree.  Add water if needed.  Douse all your food in this loveliness.


2.) Cook the puree down, until the water is mostly gone.  Then, add a small amount of oil to achieve desired consistency.  This will make a longer-lasting, hotter, sauce.

Pack your sauce into a jar.  An old olive jar works just fine:

And prepare to be enlightened - or at least invigorated - at every meal.


  1. Will Johan let me taste the pili-pili?

  2. I recently ordered Indian American to go, and got the spice on the side (because it's so inconsistent there). Man, just one drop of that stuff is tongue-numbingly hot.

  3. Wonder who would win the hot-off: Mama Vida's pili-pili or John & Rama's spice (of the esteemed Indian American Restaurant)?

  4. I too am wondering about that hot-off. ! That's why I hope Johan will let me have a taste of his pili-pili. That stuff would have to be pretty good to win over Ramaschwori's tomato chutney. I mean, Mama Vida's pili-pili would have to be really very excellent.

  5. They look like Scotch bonnets... but what kind of peppers are they???


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