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Seasons: shishito

Susan Jung

 

Stealthy sizzler Eating shishito (lion peppers) has been compared to playing Russian roulette. Although the peppers are usually mild, bittersweet and delicate, every once in a while, you get one that's fiery - and you'll not know you have been unlucky until your mouth is on fire.

The shishito is small (about 5cm long, excluding the stem), glossy, ridged and snub-nosed. Like other types of peppers, it starts off green, but as it ripens, it turns orange, then red. This variety is usually eaten green. In all my years of eating Japanese food, I've never tasted a red one.

The shishito has thin skin and flesh, so it cooks quite quickly. In Japanese cuisine, it's often cooked on the robata. Skewer several of them on two parallel sticks (which prevents them from spinning around), grill until the skin is slightly charred, then sprinkle with salt and serve with lemon wedges.

They can also be dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried. Or they can be cooked the way Spaniards prepare padron peppers (which look so much like shishito, they may, in fact, be the same thing): fried in oil without the batter.

You have to be careful when you do this, though, because the peppers often explode when fried, sending hot oil all over the place.

Pour oil to a depth of about 5mm in a skillet and heat over a medium flame. Quickly but carefully add the peppers in one layer, then immediately replace the lid, to contain the oil in case it splatters.

Shake the pan constantly, so the peppers cook evenly. If the oil is hot enough, they should be done in less than a minute. They're ready when the skin blisters and blackens in spots. Use a large slotted spatula to scoop the peppers from the pan, drain them briefly, then sprinkle with sea salt.

 

 

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