The first time I heard of shishito peppers, I was in New York standing on Sullivan Street waiting for a table at a sushi restaurant. Friends visiting from the West Coast who waited in line with me mentioned the Japanese peppers, practically swooning as they described them -- slightly sweet, barely spicy and wonderfully charred, served with a salty sauce. Sadly, they weren’t on the menu.
After that night, I looked for them every time I went to a Japanese restaurant, but I never found them in New York.
Within a week of my move to Los Angeles almost a year later, those same friends -- who, by the way, think “Shishito” would be a great name for their firstborn child -- took me to Murakami in West Hollywood. Before long, a plate of a dozen or so shishitos, fried and tossed with a mix of sake and soy sauce, arrived at our table.
They disappeared quickly as we picked them up by their stems and ate them, seeds and all. Tender and a little wilted, with a haunting, smoky flavor, they were completely addictive.
Since that moment, I have ordered them whenever possible before a feast of raw fish. They make a more complex start than edamame, adding an unexpected earthiness to the meal from the sea.
About 2 to 4 inches long, shishito peppers are similar in flavor to pimientos de Padron, a smaller green pepper from Galicia, Spain. They accompany the entrecote at La Amistad, my favorite restaurant in Castropol, a tiny town in Asturias, where my grandmother came from. There the steak arrives with a side of the peppers sauteed, glistening in olive oil and sprinkled with salt.
The pimientos are also served as a tapa throughout Spain, usually fried and piled up in a small dish, similar to the shishito appetizer.
On a recent visit to the Santa Monica farmers market, I spotted shiny green shishitos at the Yasutomi Farms stall and excitedly bought a bag.
I spent the rest of the day dreaming of how I’d prepare them that evening. I could have simply stir-fried them and eaten the whole bag as a market-day main course, but inspiration struck and instead I decided to have them over scrambled eggs.
I seeded and finely diced three peppers, sauteed them in olive oil and sprinkled them with salt. I scrambled three eggs with a little heavy cream and poured the mixture into a small frying pan, where a bit of butter quietly bubbled. I stirred the eggs constantly with a wooden spoon until they were barely done, spooned them onto a plate, sprinkled them with the diced shishitos, added a little more salt and took a bite. It was heavenly. The creaminess of the eggs and the dusky, sweet shishitos complemented each other so well that the dish, while it was quick, comfort food at the end of a long day, was also something special.
Shishitos are available at farmers markets and at Japanese markets such as Mitsuwa and Murakai. They’re in season between June and September and work best alone or in dishes with simple ingredients that don’t overpower their subtle flavor.
A tortilla Espanola, the Spanish frittata full of creamy, golden potatoes and translucent onions, serves as a rich setting for julienned shishitos. It is delicious warm or at room temperature, and would be perfect for a summer lunch with cold gazpacho.
Shishito tempura, a more common way of using the peppers, is a fun finger food and easier to make than you might suspect. A simple batter of flour, egg yolk and Japanese beer, coats the peppers and, once fried, gives them a crispy shell. Serve them with two easy-to-make dipping sauces: mirin-soy (salty-sweet) and Valencia orange-plum (tangy-sweet).
A terrific condiment to make with shishito peppers is green tomato salsa. Grilled tomatoes, green onions and the shishitos combine with lime and cilantro to make a fresh, summery topping for sweet corn blini topped with a dab of creme fraiche.
A word of warning: Although shishitos are mild peppers, about one in 10 will have a stronger bite, so once in awhile, there will be an extra bit of heat -- but it’s nothing that popping another shishito into your mouth won’t take care of.