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June 19, 2013

Shishito peppers: From hipster menus to your grill

Never had shishito peppers? You need to track them down. Right now.

First, a primer, then I’ll explain why. Shishito peppers are small, thin Japanese peppers. They look a bit like a longer, thinner jalapeno. But the flavor is quite different. While jalapenos have thick flesh and an assertive heat that most of us are familiar with, shishitos are thin-skinned and generally sweeter than they are hot.

Except when they are not. For reasons that are debated online, one out of every dozen or so shishito peppers packs a punch. Nothing that will leave you gasping for air, but enough of a bite to wake you up.

During the past year or so, shishito peppers have become a darling of the restaurant scene. Nothing on the epic scale of ramps, which New York chefs in particular went a little crazy for a few years ago. And certainly nothing on the scale of the cupcake or slider. But they have been showing up on more and more menus across the country.

Shishito peppers generally are served as a starter, often heaped in a bowl and munched. And the prep couldn’t be easier. They are cooked whole, usually with a splash of oil and just enough time in the skillet to lightly brown in spots. Seasonings can vary, though coarse salt is a must.

In addition to having a wonderfully addictive flavor — the trinity of oil, salt and a gentle heat helps here — shishito peppers are perfect for summer. They generally are shared, making them perfect for a backyard barbecue. And because they cook quickly and require intense heat, they adapt perfectly to the grill.

So here’s my effort to get shishito peppers off the restaurant menus and into your summer grilling repertoire. I’ve tarted them up a bit with chopped almonds, but feel free to leave those off.

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