Shishimai (Capsicum annuum)
Shishi means “lion” and Mai means “dance”. Shishimai is a festive dance performed in lion costumes at celebrations and festivals during the New Year. The performing lion “bites” children to ward off bad luck, improve academic performance, and bring good health.
This pepper is bright and bite-sized, not spicy in taste but distinctly peppery. It is harvested green (before turning red) for peak flavor. Shishimai is the first Shishito variety with added L3 disease resistance against tobamoviruses.
Why shishi? The two split ends of the pepper resemble a lion with its mouth open.
Shishimai contains some capsaicin – a compound found in chili peppers known to stimulate blood circulation and boost metabolism. It is also in high beta carotene as well as other antioxidants, potassium, and vitamins C, K, and B6.
Cooking with Shishimai
Different from other hot peppers, Shishimai is not spicy but has a refreshingly rich flavor which pairs perfectly with a cold beer. Shishimai’s slight sweetness makes them ideal for yakitori, tempura dishes, and grilled chicken skewers.
Shishimai are best suited for light cooking methods like grilling, sauteing, roasting, and frying. The pepper’s thin skin blisters easily, giving it a beautifully crispy char when grilled. Try them seared in a cast iron skillet with sesame oil and finished with a squeeze of lemon and sea salt for a savory and satisfying starter dish.
Safety Tip: When frying, make a hole before cooking, otherwise the pepper may explode.