Have you ever heard of chili peppers that are mild…most of the time? Such is the case with the shishito pepper, a small, slender sweet pepper that originated in Asia.
A year or two ago, I had never heard of these thin-walled, quick cooking peppers that are beginning to pop up in farm share baskets, on restaurant menus, and in the occasional market or grocery store. The growing popularity of these flavorful peppers can be linked to their ability to be enjoyed whole—and in greater quantity than the typical hot pepper–as well as for a certain built-in fun factor.
Generally speaking, shishito peppers are mild. Every once in a while, however, there’s a spicy renegade, and there’s no way to tell which one that might be. At first, I predicted that the bigger peppers would deliver the heat, but that theory didn’t hold water. I lucked upon the lone spicy pepper in our first batch, and it was nothing to fear. The spice level was similar to a medium salsa. In subsequent batches, I’ve had just two that got my attention with some added zip.
We’ve enjoyed these as an appetizer (pair with a bowl of edamame in the shell if you want to bolster the offerings while keeping it simple) and as an easy veggie side to grilled chicken and fish. Most recently, they were a welcome complement to steak and corn on the cob.
A final word of advice: buy more than you think you’ll need as they disappear quickly! For a steady supply, you may even try planting these in your garden next year.
Where and what to buy: Keep your eye out for shishito peppers between two inches and five inches long. They should be bright green and very firm. Fresh shishitos are increasingly available in grocery stores and farmers markets well into the fall. You may be able to find packages of shishito peppers at Asian grocery stores throughout the year.
For locals, my source for these peppers has been Brooklawn Farm Market on Lititz Pike. They are growing shishito peppers for the first time this summer, so they are assessing the yield as the summer progresses. Kegel’s Produce Playground on Old Tree Drive recently stocked the peppers. (Call ahead to verify availability on any given day.) Stauffer’s is planning to carry these peppers for a limited time. I also spied them on the menu at Luca, a new restaurant on James Street, and have heard from readers who have received them in their weekly farm share boxes.
If you can’t find shishito peppers, or their Spanish cousin Padrón peppers, look for the widely available mini bell peppers or varieties that Brooklawn calls seasoning peppers. These will offer a range of flavor—with no spicy surprises–and although different than the shishitos, their vibrant colors and diminutive size make them an equally appealing side dish. Unlike their full-size counterparts, they have practically no seeds so can be cooked whole. (Try skewering them for added ease on the grill.) Follow the instructions for the shishito peppers, adding a few minutes to the grilling time, as needed, to account for variations in the thickness of the pepper walls.
Shishito peppers are the Japanese cousin to Spain’s famed Padrón peppers. Delicately sweet and usually mild, they’re an easy snack to throw on the grill. One in ten, on average, has a spicy kick, but the guessing game adds to the fun.
You can use either Japanese shishito or Spanish padron peppers for this dish. They look nearly identical and both have a mellow, slightly sweet flavor — except for the occasional spicy surprise!
The preparation couldn’t be simpler, and the flavor delivered by these little peppers is fantastic.
Serve these sweet and (almost always!) mild Japanese peppers as a quick, easy, and surprisingly popular appetizer or side dish.
- 1 pint (about 5 ounces) shishito peppers
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- Kosher or coarse sea salt
Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. (See notes for skillet method.)
In a medium bowl, toss the peppers with the olive oil. You want just enough to very lightly coat. Sprinkle with kosher or sea salt to taste (I use about 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt), and toss again to distribute.
Place the peppers on the grill in a single layer. (You may use a grill pan or basket, but we have carefully placed them across the grates with no lost peppers yet!) Cook for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally, or until peppers are lightly charred but still have some structure to them. (They shouldn’t flop over when you pick them up. Smaller peppers may cook more quickly.) Remove to a plate or bowl and serve them hot. To eat, pick the pepper up by the stem end and eat the whole thing, minus the stem.
- To prepare in a skillet (cast iron works well), heat the oil over high heat. Add the shishito peppers, stirring or flipping them until they are lightly coated in the oil. Cook, turning the peppers in the pan, until they are tender with a hint of firmness and brown in spots, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size. Toss with coarse salt, to taste.
- You could absolutely do something fancier with these peppers, but they’re really good just like this. A friend recently mentioned that she likes to drizzle a little toasted sesame oil or soy sauce over the cooked peppers, and a simple mayo or sour cream based dip (even your favorite ranch dressing) would work well. We’ve enjoyed them with nothing more than a simple sprinkle of salt. Chop the rare leftovers and mix into an omelet or other egg dish. It’s a delicious addition!