The first time I encountered shishito peppers was at Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. The little green peppers arrived glossy, blistered, piled simply on a plate, and delicious: mild, mellow, smoky, sweet. Since then (to my glee), I’ve spotted them closer to home: pickled and speared as a garnish to the Hungry Cat’s Bloody Mary (a bloody is only as good as the snacks that adorn it), resting atop a generous dollop of crème fraîche as an amuse-bouche at Scarlett Begonia, and — joy! — for sale at the Farmers Market. These petite flavor bombs are nearing the end of their growing season, so now’s the time to pick some up and wow pals with the world’s easiest appetizer.
I spoke to one of our area’s main growers, Robert Abbott of Hilltop & Canyon Farms, about the shishito, a Japanese variety that, in taste and appearance, seems a close cousin of the Spanish Padrón. He admitted that growing them is a “labor of love”: so small and lightweight that the yield doesn’t reflect the effort. Preparation, on the other hand, couldn’t be easier. Don’t bother de-stemming; just rinse and toss in a bowl with oil and salt (“More than you think is healthy,” Abbott advises). Heat a big pan — each pepper should have its own little piece of real estate (too crowded, and they’ll steam rather than fry) — then toss ’em in. You want them charred in places; give it a good five or 10 minutes, tossing now and then. Eat the stems or don’t; Abbott’s a fan.
Now, as with most things cute and medium-elusive, there’s some urban legend that surrounds shishitos. Waiters, farmers, and bloggers all offer the same line: “Eating shishitos is like playing Russian roulette — every once in a while you’ll get a hot one!” I’ve never come upon a sinus-clearer, though (to my chagrin), so I asked Abbott if this was just myth. “No way,” he said, “that’s definitely true. There’s no way to tell by looking, but later in the season, the incidence of the hot ones goes up.” Shishito season winds down in November; until then, pray for heat.
Hilltop & Canyon’s shishitos, avocados, lemons, heirloom beans, and field flowers are sold at Farmers Markets in Santa Barbara on Saturdays and Tuesdays, in Ojai on Sundays, and Montecito on Fridays. Shishitos cost $4 for a half-pound bag.