The hottest new chili pepper isn’t hot at all, yet it’s burning up menus all over North America.
Trendy TO restaurants like Carbon Bar and Bar Isabel are frying up gnarled green shishito peppers as an appetizer, and Cava chef Chris McDonald says his most popular new dish is shrimp escabeche and pine nut hummus garnished with fried shishitos.
In Los Angeles, the mild-mannered, snub-nosed Japanese chili has replaced edamame as the beer-friendly bite in sushi bars, says Robert Schueller of Melissa’s Produce, which features shishitos in its new The Great Pepper Cookbook.
Local organic grower Antony John of Soiled Reputation in Sebringville, says customers were asking about this year’s crop even before his seeds hit the ground.
“I tell people to think of them as green pepper French fries,” says John, who enjoys shishito’s grassy, herbal, slightly sweet flavour.
He encourages customers to blister the skins in a hot skillet or char them on the barbecue, then toss them in good sherry vinegar and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
“It’s an addictive summer combination with a glass of rosé,” he says.
About one in every dozen peppers has a kick, but the heat is still manageable even for wimps like me.
In Leamington, meanwhile, the high-tech greenhouses of Nature Fresh Farms tested more than 100 different chili varieties before introducing shishitos to local supermarket chains this year.
“We’ve seen a steady increase in shishito sales,” says sales manager Michael Glass, who also grows lethal ghost and scorpion peppers.
“Consumers are more willing to try different products and specialty items,” says Glass, “and chefs are looking for new and interesting items to incorporate in their recipes.”
Fry whole shishitos in a splash of olive oil until they began to soften and blister — not a pretty sight. Drain on paper towels, if you like, and sprinkle with kosher, Maldon or coarse sea salt and serve. To eat, pick up a pepper by the stem and munch the whole thing, seeds and all. Discard stems. After about a dozen, my mouth was ringed with sweet heat and ready for more!
It may be one hot pepper, but the shishito sits at the low end of the heat scale, at 100 to 1,000 Scoville (heat) units. Jalapenos measure 3,500 to 11,000 units, while scorpion peppers, also appearing in local supermarkets, measure an insanely hot 1.4 to 2 million units.
Buy & Store
- Choose firm, bright green shishitos about the same size with no red tinge.
- Refrigerate unwashed chilis for several weeks.
- Extra-long and super cheap shishitos are listed as Curry Pepper in Korean supermarkets.
- Look for Soiled Reputation shishitos at farmers markets in Stratford, London and Waterloo and at Hooked in downtown TO when supplies are abundant.
- Clamshells of Nature Fresh Farms’ shishitos, ghost and scorpion chilis should be available until the end of November at select Loblaws and Sobeys.
- Michael-Angelo’s is selling shishitos from Texas at its Erin Mills Parkway store for $3.99 a pound, says produce buyer Frank Berardi.
- Spain’s hotter padron peppers can substitute for shishitos, but beware!
- Shishito peppers are completely edible, including the seeds, which can be removed.
- Cooking brings out their flavour.
- Unlike other peppers, the skin is so thin there’s no need to peel after roasting.
- Shishitos pair well with tamari, sesame, lemon and lime.
- Serve as a nibble with drinks.
- Great for stir-fries, including lemony shrimp.
- Sauté and fold into an omelette or scrambled eggs.
- Top a pizza!
- Chop grilled shishitos into couscous with grilled vegetables.
- Add to egg salad.
- Garnish cocktails.
Crab Cake Sandwiches
Splurge on fresh crab meat from your local fishmonger and try these summery burgers flecked with shishito peppers. Adapted from Melissa’s The Great Pepper Cookbook (Oxmoor House).
6 to 12 fresh shishito peppers (60 g)
1lb (450 g) crab meat, fresh or thawed
1 cup (250 mL) panko breadcrumbs
1/4cup (60 mL) mayonnaise
1 tbsp (15 mL) liquid honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg, slightly beaten
2 tbsp (30 mL) lime juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup (250 mL) Greek yogurt
3 tbsp (45 mL) sweet pickle relish
4 burger buns (I used ACE)
Leaves of green leaf lettuce
1 tomato, sliced
Heat 1 tbsp/15 mL oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook shishitos 3 to 4 minutes until blistered, turning several times. When cool enough to handle, remove stems and seeds, if desired, and chop finely.
In large bowl, gently combine chilis and crab. Lightly stir in crumbs, mayonnaise, honey, garlic, egg and lime juice. Form crab mixture into 6 patties; sprinkle both sides evenly with salt and pepper.
Heat remaining 3 tbsp (45 mL) oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook patties in two batches until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes turning once. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
For relish, in medium bowl combine yogurt and relish. Spread yogurt mixture evenly on cut side of bun halves. On bottom, place lettuce leaves, crab cakes and tomato. Add bun tops and serve immediately.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Published in The Toronto Star, on Aug. 07 2014