In a city known for its Mexican fare, one might assume that any fresh new ingredient making an appearance on menus all over town would be bold and spicy. The City of Angels, however, has a penchant for shishito peppers — a mild, savory and slightly sweet East Asian fruit (no, they’re not vegetables, since they have seeds).
The peppers peak in the summer season, and conveniently make for easy on-the-go snacks or pre-dinner bites — with a simple preparation to match. But before you get cooking, there’s so much more to learn about this exotic delicacy:
1. Shishito or Padrón?
Native to Japan, shishito peppers are typically small, sweet and thin-walled. Although their origin story is unclear, shishitos likely evolved from the Spanish Padrón pepper, which are believed to have first appeared in Spain in the 16th century after being cultivated in South America.
2. Green and not so giant
The name “shishito” derives from a combination of the two Japanese words of “shishi” (or “lion”) and “tōgarashi” (or “chili pepper”), and refers to the fact that the tip of the peppers looks like the head of a lion. Harvested while green in color, the peppers gradually shift from green to red upon ripening. Shishitos grow to be between three to four inches long, and their thin walls makes them burn and char easily — a quality that results in the long creases and wrinkles characteristic of the cooked peppers. They are frequently mistaken for Padrón peppers, which tend to be stockier and less wrinkly than shishitos.
3. Spicy or sweet?
Believe it or not, just like Padrón peppers, one out of every ten to twenty of the blistery peppers are spicy, typically due to exposure to light. And there’s no way to tell whether any one pepper is the spicy pick of the group without breaking it open to taste. The only thing to know for sure? You never know when you’ll be surprised.
4. Keep it simple
Shishito peppers make for a quick snack or appetizer no matter how they’re cooked, because the process is so simple. First, holes are poked in the tops to keep the expanding hot air from bursting the peppers. Then — in a wok or skillet — they can be grilled or pan fried in oil until blistered, stewed in a soy sauce and dashi-based liquid, and tossed with lemon for zest or coarse sea salt for a crunch. A pan of peppers cooks in 10 - 15 minutes, and then all that’s left to do is gobble them up — minus the stems.
5. All-in-one topping
Although they’re particularly iconic to izakaya (aka Japanese tapas, appetizers or bar food) fare, shishitos are a versatile staple that can — and do — serve as toppings for pizzas, steaks and even cocktails.
Where to find it
Clearly, this (slightly sweet) Asian treat makes for a simple snack or appetizer no matter how they’re cooked or what they’re on top of. Check out the list of Reserve’s LA restaurant partners that are serving up shishitos in all kinds of dishes this summer: