Go to many Japanese restaurants, and shishito peppers are as much a staple on the menu as bowls of edamame. Quickly sauteed until the vibrant green peppers soften and begin to blister, they're often served in a small bowl, seasoned with soy sauce and maybe a touch of vinegar, and garnished with a sprinkling of bonito flakes.
The Japanese peppers can be found year-round, though the growing season typically extends from summer to early fall. Thin-skinned, the delicate finger-length peppers are known for a mild sweetness offset with a gentle heat. Tame as they often are, every once in a while a pepper packs a jolt of heat, and tackling a plate can be quite an adventure.
Readily available in Japanese grocery stores, the peppers can also be found at farmers markets and are increasingly turning up in large supermarkets as they gain popularity. At the same time, chefs and home cooks are beginning to appreciate the pepper's versatility.
Because of their small size and delicate walls, the peppers can be added to a variety of dishes — seeds and all. Slice them up and add them to scrambled eggs, or char them quickly on a grill, the smoky notes complementing the delicate heat of the peppers. Use shishitos to add mild spice to salsas, gazpachos and rich stews, or quickly pickle the peppers to serve as an appetizer or cocktail garnish.
Or stuff the peppers with tuna or cheese — fresh goat cheese is a natural pairing, the gentle grassy notes of the cheese a complement to the mild heat of the peppers. The peppers also work well in a banh mi-inspired grilled cheese sandwich, layered with pickled carrot and daikon strips and sprigs of fresh cilantro.
Tempura Shishito Peppers
Canola or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold soda water, more if desired
2 dozen shishito peppers
Fill a large heavy-bottom pot with enough oil to come up the sides by about 3 inches. Heat the oil to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, sift together the flour, ½ cup cornstarch, the baking soda and salt. Whisk in the soda water to form a batter. Thin the batter, if desired with a little more soda water.
Toss the peppers with the remaining tablespoon cornstarch, dusting off any excess. Dunk the peppers, 1 at a time, into the batter, then place in the fryer.
Deep-fry the peppers, a few at a time, until the batter is puffed and lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and drain. Season the peppers with the Sriracha salt and serve immediately.
Source: Adapted from a recipe by chef Zaz Suffy of the Cohn Restaurant Group
Spicy Shishitos With Crispy Quinoa
3 generous tablespoons (1 ounce) red quinoa
2 to 4 tablespoons canola oil
1 dozen shishito peppers
2 tablespoons fish sauce, preferably Three Crabs or Red Boat brand
2 tablespoons citrus juice (an equal combination of lemon, orange and lime)
Shaved bottarga, for garnish
Soak the quinoa in water overnight to soften. The next day, drain the quinoa well.
Heat a saute pan over medium heat and coat with a thin film of canola oil. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer the quinoa to paper towels to drain and cool.
Heat a large heavy-bottom saute pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the oil, and when it begins to shimmer, carefully add the peppers, blistering them on all sides.
Carefully stir in the fish sauce and citrus juice, tossing the peppers to coat thoroughly. Remove from heat.
Using tongs, remove the peppers (leave the oil and liquid in the pan) to a serving plate. Garnish with the crispy quinoa, shaved bottarga and salt. Serve immediately.
Serves 2 to 4.
Source: Adapted from a recipe by Jason Bowlin, chef de cuisine at Redbird in Los Angeles