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Spicy Chicken Pasta (peri-peri-inspired, 20 min)

Whip up a quick and easy dinner with this 20-minute spicy chicken pasta made with rotisserie chicken and a homemade peri peri sauce. Tangy, bold, and as fiery as you like.

We’re taking a few shortcuts here with the rotisserie chicken and a slightly modified version of a peri peri sauce, but we are not sacrificing flavor.

Peri peri sauce (also called piri piri or pili pili) is a Portuguese-African inspired sauce that is tangy and spicy. Traditionally made with African Bird’s Eye chilies (hot!!), it’s a wonderful aromatic blend of heat, mild smokiness, garlic, zesty lemon and vinegar, and flavorful spices. 

For this spicy chicken pasta recipe, we’re using red pepper flakes instead of chilis, as most of us have those in our spice cupboard and you can easily vary the heat level as you go. We also use fire-roasted peppers in a jar to save time.

You can, of course, pan-sear or grill boneless chicken instead of using a store-bought rotisserie chicken – instructions are in the recipe notes.

What to expect

  1. A 20-minute dinner for busy weeknights with a few good shortcuts including a rotisserie chicken and a simplified peri peri sauce that uses fire-roasted peppers in a jar and minimal cooking.
  2. A versatile, tangy flavorful chicken pasta dish adaptable to your heat tolerance. Use any pasta you like and any kind of tender chicken you like.
  3. A great recipe to freeze.

Ingredients – tailored to your taste

pasta, roasted red peppers, oregano, smoked paprika, salt & pepper, lemon, cilantro, wine vinegar, oil, garlic, green onions
cooked rotisserie chicken on plate.
cooked rotisserie chicken

Pasta: Pappardelle, egg noodles (pictured below), linguine, fettuccini, spaghetti, rigatoni, bow ties, and penne pasta all work well. In fact, any pasta is fine.

Chicken: We use rotisserie chicken (both breasts). You can also use cooked boneless chicken thighs (more forgiving, juicier), boneless chicken breasts or chicken tenders, cut into bite-size pieces.

Peri-peri sauce: Don’t be intimidated by the longer ingredient list for the sauce as most of the ingredients are staples including lemon, garlic, wine vinegar, green onions, red pepper flakes and seasonings. A key ingredient is roasted red peppers which you can buy in a jar or make your own.

Variations and substitutes:

  • Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes depending on how much heat you like.
  • For a little tanginess, add extra vinegar or lemon juice. 
  • For a spicy cream sauce, add a splash of heavy cream or coconut cream.
  • Sauté extra veggies before adding sauce to skillet for added nutrition. 
  • Substitute:
    • fresh garlic with 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 teaspoon granulated garlic. 
    • smoked paprika with chipotle chili powder.
    • jarred roasted peppers with 2 fresh red bell peppers. Here’s how to char red peppers using an oven or grill
    • cilantro with parsley or basil (use less basil). Or leave it out. 
    • dried oregano with 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh oregano.

Step by step instructions

ingredients for spicy peri peri style sauce in large measuring bowl with immersion blender.
Place all peri-peri sauce ingredients in a large measuring cup or bowl.
blended spicy sauce in measuring bowl.
Blend until smooth with an immersion blender, blender or food processor.
chopped rotisserie chicken in bowl.
Chop rotisserie chicken
Cook pasta, then drain it reserving some pasta water.
sauce and spinach in skillet.
Add peri-peri sauce to a skillet and heat on medium heat for 5 minutes, adding spinach (if using) until wilted.
spicy chicken pasta in skillet.
Add the cooked pasta and chicken to the pasta sauce, stirring to warm through. Add as much pasta water as needed to get the consistency you like. Taste and adjust seasonings.
spicy chicken pasta on plate.
Garnish with cilantro if you like and serve immediately.

Tip for using chili peppers in the peri peri sauce

If you want to make a more authentic peri peri sauce, check out our peri peri chicken recipe. The recipe explains how to choose your peppers and modify the heat levels to your taste.

Recipe FAQs

What is peri peri sauce?

Peri peri sauce takes its name from piri piri which is the Swahili word for pepper pepper. Peri peri, also known as African Bird’s Eye chilies, are small red chili peppers native to South Africa and used by Nando’s restaurants in their peri peri sauce.

How do I get the perfect level of spice?

If this is your first time trying this sauce, it’s a good idea to add the chili flakes a little at a time. If you like a lot of heat you can also add a few dashes of hot sauce or a pinch of cayenne pepper. Be sure to go easy on the amount of cayenne pepper and taste as you go. It’s hot!

What to serve with spicy chicken pasta

You can certainly serve this dish on its own with a slice of garlic bread, as it contains protein, carbs and healthy veggies (peppers and spinach).

To stretch the meal, add a soup such as broccoli and cauliflower soup, sweet potato and carrot soup with spinach or root vegetable and barley soup. Or a simple, refreshing citrus salad on greens.

Shortcuts

  1. The big time-saver is buying a rotisserie chicken instead of pan-searing boneless chicken from scratch.
  2. Feel free to use leftover rice or quinoa instead of pasta.

Make ahead

  • Make the sauce up to a week ahead. Keep it in the fridge in an airtight container or freezer bag. 
  • Store leftover chicken pasta in the fridge in a sealed container for 3-4 days. 
  • Freeze chicken pasta in an airtight container (leave a bit of space for expansion) for up to 3 months. Thaw and reheat in the microwave for 2 minutes with a splash of water, covered. 
spicy chicken pasta on plate.

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Spicy Chicken Pasta (peri-peri-inspired, 20 min)

Whip up a quick and easy dinner with this 20-minute spicy chicken pasta made with rotisserie chicken and a homemade peri peri sauce. Tangy, bold, and as fiery as you like.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time20 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Portuguese, South african
Servings: 4 (or 3 larger portions)

Equipment

  • immersion blender or blender or food processor

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cubed rotisserie chicken Note 1
  • 6 ounces pasta, any kind
  • salt for boiling pasta
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped (optional) (or 2-3 ounces frozen spinach, thawed)

Peri peri sauce

  • 370 ml jar of fire-roasted red peppers, rinsed and drained 12 ounces (~1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (or more or less to taste) (~6/10 spice level)
  • 6 green onions, chopped ~ 1 cup/11 grams
  • 1 lemon – for lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar, apple cider vinegar)
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced 4 teaspoons (or more if you like)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro (optional – I use it)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano (or 1/2 tbsp ground oregano)
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup, brown sugar or white sugar (or more to taste)

Instructions

  • BOIL PASTA: Place pasta in boiling salted water the lower heat to medium-high heat. Cook according to package directions to al dente or longer if you prefer your pasta softer. Reserve 1/2 cup/118 ml pasta water. Drain and set aside.
  • MAKE PERI PERI SAUCE: Place all peri peri sauce ingredients in a large bowl. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth, about 1-2 minutes. If you don't have an immersion blender, use a food processor or regular blender. Taste and adjust flavors, Note 2 for variations and substitutions.
  • HEAT AND ASSEMBLE: Heat peri peri sauce in skillet with spinach (if using) and cook 2-3 minutes. Add pasta and chicken. Stir to warm through. If mixture is too thick, add pasta water (or plain water), a bit at a time, until you get the consistency you like. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

  1. To stir fry fresh chicken pieces: (instead of using a rotisserie chicken), use one pound/450 grams boneless chicken thighs (more forgiving, juicier) or boneless chicken breasts. Cut into bite-size pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a skillet to medium-high heat and pan-fry chicken for 4-6 minutes or until cooked through. 
  2. Variations and substitutions for peri peri sauce:
    • Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes depending on how much heat you like.
    • For a little tanginess, add extra vinegar or lemon juice.
    • For a spicy cream sauce, add a splash of heavy cream or coconut cream.
    • Sauté extra veggies before adding sauce to skillet for added nutrition. 
    • Substitute:
      • fresh garlic with 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 teaspoon granulated garlic. 
      • smoked paprika with chipotle chili powder.
      • jarred roasted peppers with 2 fresh red bell pepper. Here’s how to char red peppers using an oven or grill
      • cilantro with parsley or basil (use less basil). Or leave it out. 
      • dried oregano with 3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano. 
  3. Make ahead: 
    • Make sauce up to a week ahead. Keep in fridge in airtight container or freezer bag. 
    • Store leftover chicken pasta in fridge in sealed container for 3-4 days. 
    • Freeze chicken pasta in an airtight container (leave a bit of space for expansion) for up to 3 months. Thaw and reheat in microwave for 2 minutes with a splash of water, covered. 
 
Nutrition values are estimates using chicken breast meat and optional spinach. 

    Nutrition

    Calories: 477kcal | Carbohydrates: 44g | Protein: 40g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 89mg | Sodium: 2024mg | Potassium: 710mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 2773IU | Vitamin C: 49mg | Calcium: 121mg | Iron: 4mg
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