Once again, I am late to the culinary party. Last week, I happened across an article about a 27-year-old becoming the shishito pepper baron of New York. My immediate question was “what’s a shishito pepper?” The short answer is they’re apparently a thing — and have been for a few years now.
The longer answer is that, when simply fried or grilled, shishito peppers are popular appetizers in Japanese izakaya, casual after-work bars that also feature small plates menus. The slender, pleated green peppers have a delicate peppery flavor. Mostly mild, 1 in 10 randomly packs a bit of heat. From the dish we prepared above, only one had any kick at all, and it was a whisper to our brutalized taste buds.
When I explored recipes for shishito peppers, there was essentially one, with variations. Sauté them until slightly blistered. Season with sea salt and perhaps some lemon juice. I took this most basic approach, and they were delicious — fresh, summery and tender (think of how all peppers soften as you sauté them).
Variations include substituting ponzu, a citrusy Japanese sauce, for the lemon juice; substituting soy sauce for sea salt; or adding some sesame oil to the olive oil as you cook them, then topping the peppers with sesame seeds (I’m totally trying this version next). You can also pan grill them or throw them on the grill to add some smokiness. For either of these approaches, toss them with oil first.
This dish is a great addition to a meal of small plates. The peppers a perfect finger food, with the stems (don’t eat them) serving as handles. We had them on their own as an appetizer.
You can find shishito peppers at most Asian markets and, since early this year, in 6-ounce packages at Trader Joe’s.
Blistered Shishito Peppers
Serves 4 as an appetizer or small plate
6 to 8 ounces shishito peppers
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt, preferably a flaky variety such as Maldon
fresh lemon juice
1. Rinse peppers and pat them dry with a dish towel.
2. Heat olive oil over medium-high flame in a large sauté pan. When the pan is quite hot, add peppers and toss to coat with oil. Season with a little sea salt. Cook, turning occasionally, until peppers are tender and blistered in spots, about 6 to 8 minutes.
3. Transfer to a bowl and toss with a generous squeeze of lemon juice — maybe 2 teaspoons or so. Season with more sea salt, plate and serve.
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