I’m a home team guy as much as anyone. I root for the red, white and green as often as some homegrown Mexicanos. I still think Lorena Ochoa was a better golfer than Annika. Plus I’ve read enough scientific papers to be convinced that Mexico and, more specifically, an area not too far east of San Miguel de Allende, was the original home sweet home of all chile peppers.
But, this year, my favorite chile became an import. Originating far away in Japan, this cultivar of capsicum annuum (words I learned from reading those scientific papers) absolutely blew me away. Now, before you stop reading, let me tell you that I wouldn’t be writing this if the pepper wasn’t now available locally (or at least semi-locally) in Mexico.
We first had it back in July at the Toronto restaurant Core. Our server almost demanded that we try their very talented chef Hyun Jung Kim’s new shishito peppers dish before we even thought of ordering anything else.
“How hot are these shishitos”, said Don Day’s Wife, her constant response whenever she hears the word chile.
“Not hot”, said the server, two words that usually raises both of Don Day’s Wife’s eyebrows in suspicion.
About 20 of these shishito chiles arrived at the table looking very shrivelled and slightly charred. The only other detectable taste was olive oil and salt. But overall, this was a absolutely delectable taste, similar only, we thought, to Spain’s padrón peppers but with a much lower Scoville level (the measuring stick for heat used by chileheads).
We found shishitos by the basket a couple of weeks later at Toronto’s trendy Carrot Common, then at my favorite organic fruit and veg shop, Raise The Root, then at giant supermarket Loblaws. We were now revelling and rejoicing in them once, maybe twice a week. They had become the all-time champion chile of not only Don Day but Don Day’s Wife. Then, on September 7, 2019, when I went to buy more shishitos, they were gone. Gone like like the summer wind.
“Grown locally and seasonal”, I was told, by Amy, the owner of Raise The Root, “probably no more until next July.”
Then, a couple of months ago, and back in San Miguel for the Winter, we did a wine run to Costco and to check out the new (to me) H-E-B in Queretaro. Just after google-eyeing the gorgeous beef (the price kept me from buying anything more than a couple of short ribs), I was walking past the fresh produce section when I spotted some colored peppers glowing like traffic lights out of cello bags.
There were padróns, my former first choice in chiles.
There were naga jolokias, the former holder of the Guinness Book’s record for world’s hottest chile. And useful only at sado-masochism parties which I’m rarely invited to.
And there were, oh my goodness, shishitos. In the middle of Winter. In the middle of Mexico.
Shishitos are lime green, about the length of my fingers, and more wrinkly than any other fresh chile I know of. Their spice level is not quite as warm as poblanos and nowhere near as hot as a jalapeño. On the Scoville scale, shishito peppers fall in the 50-200 range; a jalapeno is at 2500 to 4500. Like the poblano, you occasionally get one shishito that’s a little steamier than the rest. Like the jalapeño, they’re usually harvested green, before they turn red.
The taste of shishitos is so good, so fulfilling, you don’t want to mess much with them; you probably don’t even want to pair them with anything.
In Toronto, where I have a natural gas barbecue that I can get up to 700 degrees F, I do them on the barbecue. In San Miguel de Allende, where I have a piped-in propane barbecue that thinks hot is about 400 degrees, I (OK, Don Day’s Wife) do them on the stove (or range for those from the USofA) in a cast iron frypan.
There are about 25 shishitos in the packs from H-E-B. It sounds like that’s far too much for two; it’s barely enough for one.
There’s no need to de-stem or de-seed them. Don Day’s Wife just tossed them in olive oil, added lots (lots as in you’re salting cobs of corn) of coarse (so you get a little crunch) sea salt and a little cracked pepper. The sushitos then went into the hot pan and were tossed for about five minutes until they were charred to a brown but not quite black. Don Day’s Wife then grated a little lemon zest to add that citrusy note that’s good on almost anything.
You Tube videos will tell you that you should pierce the peppers first. But then you’d miss that mini-explosion that will happen with a couple of them.
After the minor eruption (only one), we had the shishitos straight up (because we couldn’t resist) and then had the rest teamed with those H-E-B short ribs and some horseradished cauliflower.
Because I was worried that shishito peppers may also have some seasonality when grown in Mexico, I emailed the grower, Mery Peppers. Like so many email addresses that begin with info@, no info was returned.
I’m sorry, Mexico, that I have fallen in love with a foreign invader. But please don’t let me ever be without my beloved shishitos.