Novelty makes for great parties. But you can really take it up a notch when you ask your guests to play Russian Roullette with their tastebuds. This is what you are essentially doing when you place a bowlful of Shishito Peppers in front of them as a starter that is guaranteed to spur conversation.
If you haven’t tried them before, Shishito Peppers are for the most part mild, sweet peppers that when pan fried in butter and finished off with a good soy sauce and some large sea salt flakes are probably the best peppers you will ever eat. But I would say 1 in 8 of them have some real kick to them. So if you are the one lucky enough to select one of these fire hot peppers you will inevitably find yourself with a nice endorphin rush, but also a runny nose and eyes and a real thirst for some water. Just last night I was the “lucky one.” I can say that it felt like I had eaten a serrano pepper whole. It was not enjoyable. The ten peppers I had eaten prior to that were, however! But see that is what is fun about it. Your guests are just greedibly gobbling up these little 3 inch peppers when all of the sudden – pow! – someone gets a hot one.
Now let’s be honest. You need to disclose the potential for the real zap to one’s system in advance. I don’t recommend serving them to people who are inclined to complain because they will inevitably get the spicy one, making for a real debby downer moment. There are also some people that are just not in a position to handle a hot pepper. For example, I don’t recommend feeding it to your 96 year old grandmother like I did. The poor woman popped the whole pepper into her mouth thinking it to be like a bell pepper and it blew her socks off. Safe to say, she will never be trying a Shishito Pepper again. I also don’t recommend serving it to your kids, unless you take a little bite of the end of it first before allowing them to eat it.
From my perspective, Shishito Peppers hit the NYC restaurant scene at least a decade ago when they were made famous at Nobu, where you can still order them cooked to perfection. They soon popped up around NYC at other Japanese restaurants and even some Spanish ones. When I was living in Brooklyn, I used to find them at the farmer’s market, particularly in the late summer when they are in season. Now we buy them at a little Japanese market in midtown, because unfortunately we can’t find them anywhere in Fairfield County, Connecticut (please reply and comment if you have!). A real shame in my opinion. I think I may have to try planting some in my garden or start my own Shishito Pepper Farm because I would eat them all the time if I could actually find them at the grocer!
So cooking these babies requires a REALLY HOT wok or large frying pan. Add a couple of tablespoons of butter and get it sizzling. Then toss the peppers into the pan and stir consistently for about 4 minutes until they start to blister. Next add about 2 tbsp of soy sauce and let the butter and soy sauce mix over the course of one minute. You will notice that the butter and the soy sauce actually create a special glaze on the peppers.
Do not give into the temptation to cook them to the point where they begin to wilt, as we did the other night for our guests. Otherwise, the peppers end up releasing too much water and the glaze ends up becoming just watered down soy sauce.
Two additional words of wisdom to pass along. Slit the peppers on the side before throwing them into the pan. This will ensure that the pepper doesn’t puff up as it heats up.
Also, go for the high end soy sauce. The better the soy sauce, the better the end product. So if you bother going to search them out at the Japanese market, do yourself a favor and buy Japanese soy sauce as well. As I think I’ve pointed out previously, I don’t speak or read Japanese. But this soy sauce below was fabulous in this recipe.
One last thing. My balding hunk of a husband was really the one that brought this fun starter to our home many years ago. We’ve made them over the years, and he has consistently been the one who has cooked them, including last night when they were particularly delicious.
- 4 cups Shishito Peppers
- 2 tbsp salted butter
- 2 tbsp good soy sauce
- Large Sea Salt Flakes
- Slit the side of each pepper. I like to leave the little stem on the pepper because it allows guests to grab easily, but you can also remove the stems if that is your preference.
- Heat a large wok or frying pan on high heat until it is very hot. Add butter. Once butter is sizzling and almost to the point where it browns, add the peppers and toss with a wooden spoon for about 4 minutes until they begin to blister. Add soy sauce and stir with wooden spoon for about a minute until the butter and soy sauce create a glaze over the peppers. Remove from pan and dust with large flaked sea salt. Serve immediately and take your chances that you don't get one of the spicy ones!