Recipe: Shishito peppers and soy-honey sauce

A few weeks ago I introduced you to the glory that is the stuffed bell pepper. This week it’s on to something a little more adventurous, yet even easier and quicker to cook: The shishito pepper. What’s the adventurous part of this dish? Acquiring of the main ingredient.

Shishito peppers look something like ET’s finger, long, green and wrinkled. True, they may not appear that special, but they taste amazing. Shishitos are not usually spicy. They are a sweet pepper, but occasionally you’ll hit one with a bit more kick.

If you’ve never heard of a shishito pepper, that’s probably an indicator of where you shop. You aren’t likely to find shishitos at your mainstream market. And here’s where the adventurous part of this recipe comes in. To buy these Asian peppers, you’ll need to go to – surprise! – an Asian store.

My go-to place for these is H Mart, but I’ve also seen them at 99 Ranch. You’ll find shishito peppers in the produce section, either in bulk or wrapped in plastic in small cartons. Sometimes they are labeled “sweet peppers.” And they’re inexpensive. On a recent trip to an H mart, they were about $1.30 a pound, and trust me, a pound will go far.

If you’ve never been to an Asian market, get ready for an experience. Strange fish, sea snails, chicken feet, ginseng root and fruits such as lychee might seem odd to the uninitiated, but they are everyday sights at an Asian market. And compared to mainstream American stores, products can be surprisingly inexpensive.

At a market such as 99 Ranch or H Mart, you’ll see and smell foods that until that point were most likely foreign to you. Shopping at a place like this can be a fun – and free – adventure for the family. Go on the weekend and you’re likely to find lots of free samples, too. As for a language barrier, don’t sweat it. The smiles from friendly staff speak volumes, and even if your cashier does not speak English (though I’ve found that most do), cash and credit cards will do all the talking you need at checkout time.

But back to the peppers. I was introduced to shishitos at a hip Japanese restaurant years ago. Fried lightly in oil until charred and then sprinkled with coarse salt, these appetizers made lasting memories. I easily replicated the procedure for making them on the first try by using 10-inch cast-iron skillet.

Stainless steel or aluminum skillets also work, but I get the best char from cast iron, which gets very hot, cooks evenly and retains heat long after the flame is off. To take shishito peppers from great to truly awesome, whip up a soy-honey dipping sauce on the side. In about 10 minutes, you and your friends and family can be happily chomping down on a fun, festive appetizer that will feel like a party in your mouth.

CHARRED SHISHITO PEPPERS & SOY-HONEY DIPPING SAUCE

(Makes 2 servings)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound (about 25) whole shishito peppers, washed and dried
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • For sauce:
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey

Procedure:

Step 1: Rinse and dry the shishito peppers, then heat a heavy, 10-inch or larger skillet on medium-high for a minute. When the pan is heated, add the oil to coat the bottom and continue to heat until the oil shimmers.

Step 2: Carefully add the whole shishito peppers and then sprinkle with the salt. Cook over medium-high heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the peppers start getting black and blistered, turning them often.

Step 3: While the peppers cook, heat the soy sauce and honey over low heat in a small pot. Cook until the sauce simmers, stirring or whisking to incorporate. Taste and add soy, honey or even some black pepper to suit your preference.

Congratulations: You’ve just made shishito peppers and a dynamite dipping sauce. To serve, pile the peppers in a big bowl and put the sauce in a smaller bowl on the side. Pick up the peppers by the stem (don’t eat that, by the way) dip, and get ready for a taste explosion.

Your turn: Share your own cooking tip for making shishito peppers or request a recipe in the comments area below!

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