Monday, May 7, 2018

Shishito peppers Hunan style

Pork fried with fresh peppers is a Hunan classic, and it’s one we ate time and again in Taiwan.

We never tired of it because each restaurant had its own spin on the flavors: some added fermented black beans, other piled on the garlic, and some added really hot peppers into the mix instead of the usual mild green ones.

But the weather is finally warming up around here in the Bay Area and so shishito peppers are in season. I can think of no better way to enjoy them than Hunan style. Even if you are somewhat heat averse, you probably will love shishito peppers. 

Seared and luscious
These have a terrific flavor that really blooms when you gently fry them whole. 

In fact, they are a whole lot like Spain’s padrón peppers in that most are mild, they’re green, and they can be turned into some of the best appetizers and tapas you’ll ever find. (And if you can't find shishito peppers but the padróns are looking good, use them instead.)

Shishito peppers are, I think, from Japan. Or, at least, the name is. Shishi means “lion,” and tōgarashi means “pepper,” so you might think, well, this English name is a mash up, things were cut off in the wrong place, and by all rights these should be called shishi peppers. But then again, shishi in Japanese also means to pee, so I guess more thought went into it than appears on the surface.

Anyhoo, shishito peppers are at their tastiest when you slowly fry them in a minimum of oil until the surfaces are blistered and the insides are cooked. You don’t have to poke holes in them or remove the stems or seeds. Just rinse, pat dry, and fry. 
Now's the season

The main thing to remember is to not rush the process, but instead lovingly brown them over a period of about 15 minutes. The results are divine. The seeds are edible, and so the only thing you’ll end up tossing are the stems.

This tastes like early summer…

Shishito peppers and pork Hunan style
Xiāngshì shīzĭlàjiāo chăo ròusī  湘式獅子辣椒炒肉絲
Serves 4

6 ounces | 170 g fresh shishito peppers
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
An updated classic
1 boneless pork chop (about 5 ounces | 150 g), frozen for about 30 minutes
2 tablespoons mild rice wine (Taiwan Mijiu)
1½ teaspoons regular soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons finely julienned ginger
2 tablespoons fermented black beans, rinse and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar

1. Rinse the peppers and pat them dry. Set a wok over medium-high heat and swirl in the oil. Add the peppers and reduce the heat to low-medium. Toss the peppers occasionally so that they brown evenly. You want them to be more or less gold and gently seared all over, although you don’t have to be utterly thorough about this. The total cooking time should be about 15 minutes. Remove the peppers to a work bowl and return all the oil to the wok.
Freeze for easy slicing

2. While the peppers are cooking, prepare the pork: Remove it from the freezer and slice it into thin julienne. (Freezing the meat for a short period of time makes it much easier to handle.) Place the meat in a small work bowl and toss it with the rice wine and soy sauce.

3. When all the peppers have been cooked, turn the heat under the wok back up to medium-high and add the garlic, ginger, and black beans. Stir-fry these for a few minutes to release their aromas. Add the pork and marinade, and continue to stir-fry them until the meat is no longer pink. Increase the heat to high and add the peppers, vinegar, and sugar. Toss until most of the sauce has evaporated. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve hot.


  1. Hi! This looks good, very similar to a dish I've making ever since I first had it in Beijing a few years ago, but mine is even simpler. Just thin sliced pork belly, peppers, and a little dash of soy and chicken powder to finish. Shishito peppers aren't seen here in New England so I use poblanos for a nice little bit of heat. I clean them of seeds and cut into 3/8-1/2 inch strips, then in half lengthwise. But I use other proteins as well. Sometimes golden fried tofu wedges dusted in cornstarch (so the thin end gets a little crunch). But what I like best is beef flank steak sliced thin-ish diagonally cross grain, 'velveted' in a very little soy and dry sherry and cornstarch (sits 10 minutes)then laid in one layer in hot oil to brown on one side only. Let aside in bowl, then dry fry peppers till blistered. Add a small amount of water to take up any brown bits, add the meat back in, and stir fry a minute at most. So simple but so good.

    I was around Guilin for a couple of weeks in March, doing the usual river cruise, Yangshuo (and half a day at the famous cooking school!), then up to Guizhou visiting minority villages for 4 days. One was so far barely touched by tourists as the road up the mountain only came in two years ago. Really untouched aside from new construction (done with traditional framing methods --- beautiful joinery!)where the road stops. That road is prone to rock and mud slides, so we were lucky it was clear despite the light rain for a few days prior.

    Then back through Guilin and a last trip down to the old town of Huangyao (Ming dyn. founding), and lovely old lanes and houses and a small river runs through it, too. I suppose some of your 100 million or so relatives founded it.

    Anyway, the reason I mention this is that the local crop is black beans, mostly fermented then dried for sale. There were a good many hole-in-the-wall food shops and stalls, and after tasting a whole bunch of different condiments, bean and chili sauces mainly, got a nice big jar full of a black bean, garlic and chili sauce, very dry. I am (to finally get to the point) going to add some of this to the pepper and (protein) dish next I make it. Thanks again for all the delightful recipes! Victor B

    1. This is absolutely amazing stuff, Victor. Thank you so much! Do you have a website with photos? If you'd prefer to send a link to me rather than publish it online, my gmail address is madamehuang

      Love your details on using the peppers. Those black beans sound amazing. And, you're very welcome!

  2. Just a follow up: I tried this with my Huangyao black bean sauce and it just overpowered the dish when cooked with a tablespoon. Have to try with less. Also there have been sightings of shishitos here lately but at ridiculous prices. Today though, $3.99 at local supermarket, and I snapped up what they had (just half a pound, alas). I'll probably use flank or skirt steak, whatever is on hand in the freezer. Also have been making pickles with great success. Thanks for the knowledge and encouragement! All the best. Victor B

    1. Yes, these peppers will usually be out of season by now. And black bean sauce is not the same as fermented black beans. The sauce has soy sauce and other things added, which make it much saltier. Plain black beans are just the beans and salt, so the flavor is milder and (I think) much cleaner. Try them next time and see if you prefer them, too. Thanks for the feedback!