Shishito peppers have started showing up on menus the past couple years and some would say they’ve even become the new darling of the chile pepper family. There is currently a Japanese varietal now being grown in the US in summer through fall but they are pretty much available year round in the states thanks to the imports from Mexico and South America. They are regularly available in Asian markets but you may have seen them popping up in the produce section of your upscale grocery stores as well. They are slender, finger-length green pods with thin, wrinkled skins and a sweet flavor. Most of these bright, flavorful sweet peppers have little real heat but occasionally you’ll get one with a nice, surprising kick. This makes them fun to eat, and they have grown immensely popular as a both an appetizer and side dish.
Shishitos – Raw
I think one of the contributing reasons for their popularity, beyond their flavor and textures, is the fact that they are so quick and easy prepare as well as easy to eat. Their very thin skin means when seared or grilled the skins can be eaten rather than having to remove them. For those minimalists out there a simple sprinkling of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon and/or sesame oil and you have a delicious snack. For me though, I think the addition of either a paste, cheese or sauce of some kind easily elevates them to a more interesting starter. I think this is especially so if you add an element of spice to them since they are admittedly so sweet and mild to begin with. You can drizzle them just before coming out of the pan their seared in or after they are on the serving plate. The only thing you need to be careful of is making sure that you don’t allow whatever drizzle you are adding in the pan to burn because it’s going to be blazing hot, and while a brief dance in a hot pan often helps release flavors and aromas, you can just as easily end up turning this into a bitter mess. For that reason, I suggest doing the drizzle just after they come out of the hot pan.
Seared over high heat
I recently made these two different ways both with simple sauces made ahead of time. On the first approach I started by making a little lemon brown butter. Just place small pieces of butter and some freshly cracked pepper in a sauce pan and, over medium heat, heat the butter, swirling in the pan, until it turns a medium nutty brown and becomes fragrant. Quickly pour into a side bowl and squeeze some lemon into the butter to taste. Keep this on the side just at room temp along with some freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese. Next you want to heat up a saute pan that will be large enough to hold all the peppers into the pan without a lot of double stacking. You can use a non-stick pan if you want but you don’t really need one, just one that conducts the heat quickly and evenly. Tip: My go-to pan for high heat work is black steel. So pop the pan on your burner and get it good and hot. Once hot, add a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil and throw in the peppers. You want to let the peppers blister on one side for a few seconds first and then toss them in the pan until most of the sides are slightly blistered. If you like them really dark then go for it but it’s not necessary to go beyond a medium brown. When finished, just pour them into the bowl with the lemon-brown butter, sprinkle with Parmesan and toss to coat. For you newbies out there you just grab them by the stem and bite off the entire chile and enjoy! If you want to mix it up a bit adding cherry or pear tomatoes to the pan gives you another level of flavor and visual presentation.
Shishitos with Lemon-Brown Butter and Parmesan
Add Cherry Tomatoes
My second preparation for shishitos, and one soon to debut at your local JFAT fall/winter menu, is served with a thinned Sriracha aioli that I found to create a great flavor pairing. This gives you an opportunity to enjoy, or not, each pepper with a touch of heat… not crazy hot… just titillating. Here’s the crazy simple recipe…
Recipe – Sriracha Aioli
» 1 cup Mayonnaise
» 3 Tablespoons Sriracha
» 1 Tablespoon Honey
» 2 Tablespoons Water
» 2 cloves Garlic, minced
Stir together all ingredients, cover and refrigerate for one hour prior to serving.