In the immortal words of Dirty Harry, do you feel lucky? When presented with a bowl of shishito peppers, odds are that you’ll bite into a mild, easy-on-the-tastebuds treat. But one out of every 10 to 20 of the little gems ends up being a bit spicier.
Exactly how hot can that rogue pepper be? Not very, it turns out. Shishitos range from 100 to 1,000 Scoville heat units, which is hotter than bell peppers but much milder than jalapenos, which range from 2,500 to 8,000 Scovilles. Their similar-looking cousin, the Padron, ranges between 500 and 2,000 Scovilles.
The “make my day” gamble of biting into that one spicy pepper in the bowl just adds to shishitos’ charms for modern diners, who are clamoring to enjoy them grilled, blistered, roasted and pan-fried. Novelty-seeking diners will love to try an appetizer of shishitos as the perfect start to a meal, in place of that once super-cool, now ho-hum bowl of edamame. Blister them in a hot pan, toss with sea salt, heap them up in a bowl, and serve them along with the opening round of drinks. Stand back and wait for applause.
Quick and easy prep
To prepare, be sure to poke a hole in each pepper before cooking–this will keep expanding hot air from bursting them open. In addition to being popular cooked, they are increasingly turning up served raw, on their own or in salads.
At Toronto’s Bar Isabel, chef Brandon Olsen deep fries the peppers briefly, then tosses them with Maldon salt before heaping them in a bowl and serving them as a bar snack. Chef Eli Kulp of Philadelphia’s Fork restaurant creates a shishito pepper romesco sauce that’s served with grilled vegetables. Chef George Chen of China Live sears shishito peppers with pieces of steak.
In Japan, it’s said that the tip of the pepper looks like the head of a lion, and their name is the combination of shishi for lion and tōgarashi for chili pepper. Their current popularity is part of a larger overall trend that sees diner clamoring for peppers of all types. To learn more, check out this past On Your Plate blog on Pepper Power, which says that 54 percent of Americans report they prefer spicy foods, dips, sauces and condiments.