The Japanese named the peppers shishi, or lion, either because they used to be much hotter or the puckered tip looks like the head of a lion. Now, shishito peppers are grown in the U.S. as well—they’re prolific during late summer in any temperate climate.
What is it?
Small and sweet with just the mildest bit of heat, these Japanese peppers are the perfect snack or appetizer. You may have seen them on the menu at trendy restaurants, but they’re dead easy to prepare at home. Try them during their peak summer season, and you’ll see what the fuss is about.
Like all sweet and hot chile peppers, shishitos (Capsicum annuum) are descended from South or Central American plants. It’s likely that Portuguese explorers brought chiles to Japan several centuries ago, and some were bred into mild shishitos. One in every 10 or so is as hot as a mild jalapeño (there’s no way to know until you taste them).
How to choose
Farmers’ markets and well-stocked grocery stores carry shishitos. They’re about 3 inches long and narrow with firm, glossy skin. They have vertical wrinkles and are a bit twisty—that’s how you distinguish them from similar but spicier Padrón peppers. Although they’re usually picked while still green, you may find the occasional red or orange ones, too.
How to prep
Shishito peppers can be eaten raw, seeds and all, but they’re usually grilled, roasted, or sautéed so the outside gets blistered but the flesh remains firm—the char brings out the peppers’ sweet heat. Avoid overcooking, though, because shishitos quickly turn bitter.
They’re often served with Japanese ingredients, such as sesame seeds, toasted sesame oil, and soy sauce, as in the dish at right. Citrus like lemon or yuzu is a good match, as are nutty flavors like browned butter and toasted almonds.
How to store
They can be refrigerated in an open paper bag for up to two weeks.